Monday, March 27, 2006

These are a few of my favorite words

I once read an article discussing essay questions on college admission applications. Most of the questions made my head hurt, but this one made me smile: "What is your favorite word and why?"

GEEK ALERT!!! I confess I actually had a favorite word as a kid, though I doubt it would have won me any college acceptance letters. The word was "aardvark." I still like it. How cool to have a word beginning with a double "a." And it sounds cool too, the way the second syllable echoes the first. It means, literally, earth pig. It's a creature something like an anteater or an armadillo. (Armadillo is a cool word, too.)

I've collected other words over the years. Brangle for example. It's archaic now, but it means to wrangle or squabble--which are also two pretty fun words to say or read. Mugwump, a synonym of sorts for poohbah. Hoity-toity. Namby-pamby. Shrubbery. Snark.

Language is one reason I like writing Regency-set historicals. The Regency period of England was a time of wonderful words. You could call someone a fool or you could call him a nodcock, a paperskull, a lobcock, or a cods-head. Beef-witted. A cabbage head. Ninnyhammer. Someone with more hair than wit.

Occasionally, I'll get too enamored of a word when I'm writing. One reader pointed out I'd become a trifle too attached to the word "trifle" in my first book, so I did a search and destroy for it in my second. I the only word geek here? Anyone else out there have a favorite word to share?


Nancy Morse said...

My favorite word is puppy. To me, it sounds great and looks great, and gives me an overall happy feeling. To take it even a step further, is puppy-belly a word? Because puppy bellies are my favorite things in the world. They're pink and soft and warm. I've never met a puppy or a puppy-belly I didn't like.

Ann Roth said...

I don't have a favorite word, Sally. I love words, period. I used to bring the dictionary to the table and look up words (and read the definitions aloud) during dinner. Not every night, but occasionally. My family always plays dictionary after a holiday meal, a tradition carried over from when I was a kid. Ever played that? (warning: I'm about to tell you how to play.)

One person gets the dictionary. They find a word nobody knows. They spell that word. Then everyone makes up (in writing) a definition. While people write away, the person with the dictionary jots down the real definition. Everyone turns in their definitions to the dictionary person, who reads them aloud in random order, with the real definiton included. The rest of the group votes for the definiton they think is the real one. You get points for fooling people and points for voting for the actual definition.

It's a really cool way to learn new words.

Nancy Herkness said...

Tintinnabulation, the ringing of bells. Doesn't it sound just like bells? I've always loved it but I have to admit that I've never found a graceful way to use it in my writing. It's just a little too unusual. But perhaps you could work it into a Regency?

I completely agree with you about snark; it's one of the all-time great descriptive nouns; it so perfectly echoes its function.

My so-called formal training in writing was all in poetry so I am especially sensitive to the way words sound. I adore alliteration and slant rhymes and have to guard myself from falling into old habits when I write prose. Of course, I think prose benefits from a bit of alliteration every now and then...

Sally MacKenzie said...

Ann, I have played dictionary! And my family also pulled out the dictionary occasionally at dinner. And here's the truly geeky thing--my husband and I before we were married once spent a "date" reading the dictionary. You won't find that scene in any romance novel...hmm, well, I guess with a little artistic license....

Don't know if I could work tintinnabultion into a Regency, Nancy, but it's an interesting challenge. Puppy-belly, however, has definite possibilities.

JoAnn Ross said...

I'm afraid to know what this says about me, but I think my fave word is wretched. I usually manage to slip it into every book I write.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ...

There can be only one answer for me: Scotland.

Though, I'm with Nancy about puppy and puppy-belly, too. Though I'd add dogs as well since -any- four-legger melts me. Sometimes the older ones even more than cuddly, fat-bellied puppies.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Allie Mackay said...


Sue-Ellen must not have had enough strong black coffee today because she left out the best word of all.

But I'm enjoying a fine cup of java just now, so I'll reveal the yummy word she neglected to post. It's her favorite after Scotland.

Betcha can guess, too, because it's ... Kilt!

Ooooh, yeah.

Slainte all around!
Allie Mackay

Gail Dayton said...

I have a couple of favorite words that are favorites just because of the way they sound and feel in my mouth. Abominable is the first one. I mean, say it! It just bounces around in there before it comes out. Chrysanthemum is another one. It's all hard and hissy and them ends with snapping your mouth on it in a "mum", with a hum at the very end. What could be more fun?

I also have a favorite French word. Boite. It means box, but when you say it a bunch of times fast, it sounds like the sound those old fashioned oil cans make when you're poking them in the bottom making the oil come out to oil something. (For the non-French speakers, boite is pronounced something like "bwott")

Now words with favorite meanings are something else, but those are just fun to say. :D

Gail the bizarre

Paula Reed said...

I like serendipity and onomatopoeia.

My husband's company is called Aardvark Imaging; it gets first billing in the phone book!

Lori Devoti said...

I don't have a favorite word, but I do have some strange connection to the number 2, the letter R and the color orange--and even more strange I associate them all together. I'm guessing I had some strange orange toy branded with a 2 and an R as a child. Either that or I am just hopelessly odd.

Kate R said...

For some reason around here we use the word "chicken" usually randomly. I think because the animal and the word are both sort of silly.

Did you ever hear that old wheeze about how non-English speakers really like the word diarrhea? It is a very pretty word--too bad it couldn't have a more pleasant meaning.

And don't all writers have a word they glom [<--there's a good one] onto? There's always *some* word that has to be search and replaced. Mine are usually more boring than "trifle". . ."Face" was my last one.

Teresa Bodwell said...


Probably because I have 3 children. Or maybe from my days playing in bands. Ever here dozens of bands warming up for a major parade all at the same time.

Like Nancy H's word, I think cacaphony sounds like what it means.

Favorite word game: Apples to Apples

Sally MacKenzie said...

Great words, everyone! I just came across another--kerfuffle. I found it in the World Wide Words newsletter that shows up in my email box once a week. I you like words, you might want to check it out. Here's a link to an online version where you'll find kerfuffle used in a discussion of a brouhaha (another great word) over the use of the word "bloody."

Colleen Thompson said...

I love "susurration." Sneak it into practically every book. And "just," which is just such a handy word, I tend to overuse it and have to edit many repetitions out of each manuscript.

And then there's "lollapalooza," which I have yet to find a way to use but I love the sound of it.