So I’m strolling along the path beside the sea this morning, gazing at the surf and wondering if I will see dolphins, thinking I’ll pick up a lettuce on the way home, but I’m aware of something else going on in the back of my mind. It’s a word, echoing away, almost like background music. The word is ‘fecund’ but on any other day it will be something entirely different. I have spent the day with ‘fallopian’ drumming away in the background and even had a simple ‘spent’ bounce around my brain for a day.
Is it because I’m a writer that certain words catch (and hold) my attention? They tend to be a juicy blend of hard and soft sounds – fallopian is quite luscious, fecund is quite direct – and you have to move your lips when you say them. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the meaning of the word – it’s all about the sound.
This is why I like the comedian Miranda Hart so much. Often she will dwell on a certain word – plunge, Jacinta, plinth – and enjoy saying it again and again. That’s me, I think to myself when I watch her do it. And I suspect that it might also be quite a few other people, too.
For a brief period I worked with adults who had autism. One older man liked to sit contentedly looking about him and repeat ‘micronesia’ over and over again. While others used to wonder why on earth he was saying it, I understood that it was the pure, comforting pleasure of saying the word that he was enjoying. Micronesia is such a satisfying word, after all.
As a broadcaster, it’s good to have words that have a kind of chewiness. It makes for more interesting listening, which is why I like to use ‘zingy’ or ‘zappy’ instead of plain old ‘exciting.’ Isn’t ‘plopping’ something down more satisfying than ‘putting’ it down? A master of the chewy word is Rowan Atkinson and especially his famous turn as a schoolmaster conducting morning registration – the pure joy of certain words while adding a dig at the absurdity of British surnames.
Stephen Fry is another wonderfully eloquent wordsmith who chooses a word for the pleasure of its sound. And didn’t Lewis Carroll have fun with ‘Jabberwocky’, his poem where its nonsense words still make more-than-perfect sense? Which makes me wonder if this is a peculiarly British thing or if the same is true in other languages. I’d love to find out.
Do you have a favourite word?