For the love of English
I’ve been into English since my school days. In recent years I’ve studied the art and craft of writing as I’ve written blogs, essays and books. It has to do as much with the right words as good sentences. And etymology, the origin of words, has been an abiding interest.
But here’s something else — I’ve noticed over the years that the sound of certain words delights me. I’ve usually noted this and moved on, but today I had the idea of sharing some of these words with you and seeing if you feel like me about them or other words. The reasons you like them would be interesting too.
A few words about words
I’ve picked the first ten charming words I recalled. Some of them are not English words, strictly speaking, as they are names that may be from other languages. But who’s being strict? Not I.
Before I list them, here are some thoughts about words and their sensation.
Why do I like certain words? The answer’s not easy because it’s not a sure thing.
One possibility is that I discern that their sound is inherently pleasurable. It may be similar to the pleasure of a musical note.
The second is that they evoke a feeling of sounding cutely like the thing or idea they signify. I admit this feeling may be due to long association, although it’s possible many words started like that, copying the sound of something, like the word ‘thwack’. But I am not sure this is a strong reason. Otherwise, I would find many such words striking.
There’s another problem — it could be that it’s not words that appeal to me so much as what they describe. Perhaps they shine in the light of the things or emotions they represent.
Anyhow, none of this matters. These words give me happiness. They roll off the tongue and the mind. I want to stay with them, let them linger on the mind’s tastebuds. They bring a smile to me. Or contentment.
It’s the shade of translucent blue with a dapple of light green that comes to mind and gets me. I associate it with the calm ocean on a bright and warm day rather than the colour of the sky, although the latter may have something to do with the former. And a scene of strolling on a strip of white beach wearing sunglasses against the glare of the high sun, with a few birds dotting the high vault of the sky.
What a word, what a place! There’s the feeling that the word is not kosher English or Germanic but a mixture of something Moslem (I prefer this variation to the usual ‘Muslim’), perhaps from the echo of the name Amal in it, and French and Italian. Mediterranean and cool and stylish, and drifting southeast.
It makes me think of a combination of an acid (-dipped) barb for the words and tone used by the person being acerbic. Very apt.
Since I was a child, middle and upper-class Indian women have used the Lakme brand of cosmetics. Face powders in pretty golden ‘compacts’, lipsticks, and more. It had a mystique — of ladies dressing up, elegant, beautiful and prim. Later in life, I discovered the French opera Lakmé by Delibes, which became one of my favourites. Of course, the association with ‘my’ Lakmé may have played a subtle part in the attraction, but the songs have a beautiful lilt and sentiment. Mady Mesplé’s version of it gets me. For a couple of years, I didn’t know why the opera was called Lakmé. So imagine my glad surprise when I found Lakmé is the french name for the Indian goddess Lakshmi, and Delibes named the opera after her. I am not religious, but you get why I like the word even more.
Kudos to Microsoft for stealing this precious little word and using it for its cloud. Words with the letter ‘z’ tend to appeal to me (like zenith, azimuth, or breeze), but this is a particular favourite. It’s like Cerulean, but this time definitely about the sky. A deep blue cloudless sky, far above us. Such a gorgeous shade to look up to or have overhead.
Encountering this word or seeing fair feathery streaks in the sky on an evening walk makes me feel I am floating high on a fine day, weightless as these clouds, white and fluffy in spirit, fair weather and freedom. They’re wispy and ephemeral but will return on fine days.
It’s such an exotic name and suits a city far from anywhere. It sounds modern, especially the ‘kent’ part, but also vaguely Russian or Mongol. It makes me think of a dry place, Arabic tea, hukkahs, tall and grand mosques, cold winters, long coats, spice markets, and inlaid metal jugs. Like a crossroads between west and east, a place of intrigue and secret meetings, a mix of itinerant people and impenetrable natives.
Hats, a canal, steamers, cigarettes, so many associations. Centre of the new world, a confluence of Spanish, American and ancient South American cultures. Such a thin strip of land with so much riding on it, and the setting of books by two of my favourite authors — John Le Carre and Graham Greene. Its three syllables — short, short, long. One of the rare words where the American pronunciation sounds better to me.
Know this word? It’s not used a lot, and it means naive or shallow. I’ve wanted to use it since I first read it, although I have no idea where or when I did. But the occasion has not arisen. Nor am I sure that it won’t be affected to use it. Oh well, I may savour it and never use it. Go on, say it aloud and see how nice and sophisticated it sounds.
Don’t you love the sound of ‘April’? I find it cheery and light, whether it is the month of the year or a girl’s name, like the word itself, short, sweet, and lilting to say. It’s also the month of my wedding, and I have always been glad about it.
If you know me, you know how much I’d love to hear your thoughts on my words; and about the words you love. Please do tell. And if you liked these favourites of mine, I’ll share ten more in a few months.
Khuda Hafiz, my friend.
(I like the sound of this salutation, like many words and phrases of Urdu, but that’s a whole different story.)