55 / Words

The sound of a word in the English language, uttered aloud, or said silently, often gives the word an added fascination.  Whether single syllable, or polysyllabic, some words have an almost irresistible allure.  Who can fail to succumb to the seductive sound of ‘silk’.  Repeat it over to yourself.  I’m not talking about onomatopoeia (sound echoing the sense of the word.  Like ‘buzz’ or ‘whack)’, nor how fitting the word appears to its conceptual meaning.  But about the luxurious beauty in itself of the sound - ‘silk’.  Soft and strong.  Or try ‘sesquipedalian’. It means ‘long winded’.  It’s impossible to say the word without noticing its pompous rhythm.

Some words, on the other hand, are just plain ugly. A word selected by Oxford Dictionaries as the 2017 word of the year is ‘youthquake’.   What an abomination of a word!   It’s defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”.  It recognises the impact that  the millennial generation has had in driving political change – at least in nations in the western world like during the recent UK Elections.  The word is a horrible shotgun wedding of disparate sounds.

The French have their own problems.  For some reason (on which scholars fail to agree) the French language assigns gender to nouns.  Old English used masculine, feminine, and neuter, similar to the way in which the German language does today.  Modern English has given up on this and moved on.  French however still insists that tables and chairs are feminine.  Worse than this is the dominance of the male pronoun.  As soon as, for example, a male teacher joins a group of female teachers.  All of them, male and female, are referred to as masculine.  There has finally been a pushback against this state of affairs by the use of the ‘middot’ – a way of allowing both masculine and feminine endings to nouns and adjectives.  The use of this tiny punctuation mark has caused uproar in France  with the French prime minister denouncing ‘inclusive language’ in official texts.  When you consider the compromise ‘instituteur•rice’  - difficult to savour silently, or spoken aloud - you can see maybe he might have a fair point.


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