29 aprile 2010

Which words make you merry?

So we know you hate 'moist' and 'stakeholder' and 'nice', but which words do you love?

Words with soft sounds such as "l", "m" and "n", and long vowels or diphthongs, reinforced by a gentle polysyllabic rhythm, are interpreted as "nicer'" than words with hard sounds such as "g" and "k", short vowels and an abrupt rhythm.

There are always two reasons why people love or hate a word. One is the meaning, the other is the sound, and it's difficult to disentangle the two. Concentrating on the sound can best be done when meaning is taken out of the equation, by comparing synonyms.

Some inveighed against clichés ("solutions'"), Americanisms ("math"), Latinate words ("defenestrate"), colloquialisms ("like", when used for, like, quoting), political correctness ("chairperson"), nouns as verbs ("critique"), irregular spellings ("inveigle") and much more. Only a minority actually focused on the phonetics, and when they did, Gratak-sounds ruled.The vast majority of the hated words were short - one or two syllables - with short vowels and hard or hissing sounds: "crotch", "sac", "fiscal", "gusset", "nappy", "gutted", "rectum", "gash", "pustule". Slightly longer hates were "obligate", "spatula", "privilege"' and "masticate". The most interesting suggestions were those where the meaning of the word was pleasant, or at least neutral, but the sound still got on someone's nerves: "kudos", "bap", "boobs", "feisty", "veggie", "kooky", "pasty", "pamphlet", "spouse'" and - ironically - "poet".The forum started off with someone hating "moist". That's an interesting one, because it begins with soft sounds and a diphthong and ends with hissing and hard sounds. I'd expect opinions to be evenly divided there - and indeed, it wasn't long before "moist" had its defenders. "Flange" was another that brought divided opinions.Did anyone restore the balance, sending in words they liked the sound of? Yes, a few: "miasma", "lilt", "eland", "bland", and the mouth-watering "oligopoly".

published on: Guardian