Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's the Good Word?

This seems to be the week when I'm asking y'all to think and respond, and I am finding it fascinating.

I was fascinated by your thoughtful and respectful (thank you!) responses to my query about whether you would boo an elected official whose views and actions you find abhorrent but who is within boo range in a purely ceremonial capacity. Some of you were all "Heck, yeah!" to the boos, and others were "Boos are never appropriate" and still others were in the "Depends" category.

There was not consensus, and that's why I love you all. You made me think.

Today's think-and-respond comes from an office discussion this morning. (Have I mentioned that I have the best co-workers in the world?)

The question was this:  What's the good word?

Co-worker C posed this question to co-worker T as T was pouring his first cup of coffee. T thought for a second, then said, "Perpendicular." I thought this was a spectacular response--it trips off the tongue with a little bit of surprise in the middle, and considering that T is a superb musician, its selection made sense to me. But C laughed: "I would have said OpeningDay," he said.

It reminded me of a fifth-grade assignment. In my two-room country school our four-person fifth grade class was the largest in the older kids' room. Our hippy-dippy teacher did much juggling to keep all of these classes engaged, and one day our assignment was this:

Write the five most beautiful words in your best handwriting.

I love beautiful words, and I spent the next hour narrowing down my list to only five. I don't remember them all, but I remember that my list included palomino, beautiful, and symphony. These words were not only beautiful to look at, they had wonderful mouth feel and silky rhythm as they became audible. I was intoxicated by my words, blissfully repeating them silently and in whispers, until I saw the lists of my classmates.

The other three class members all had chosen similar words: God. Mother. Love. Peace.

And with a thud I fell back to earth with the realization that I was shallow-minded and hedonistic. I had chosen my beautiful words because I found them aesthetically pleasing; my classmates had chosen their beautiful words based on concept. It wasn't until years later that I stopped being embarrassed by this choice. There is no shame in appreciating the aesthetics of words as well as the concepts they represent.

So this morning when C said "perpendicular," I found it an extraordinarily wonderful choice. Look at it! It's visually symmetrical with ascenders in the first half and descenders in the second. It flows off the tongue smoothly, with that little hiccup in the middle. It is a good, good word.

But OpeningDay is a good choice, too. It evokes thoughts of spring and the smell of leather baseball gloves, the crack of the bat and the purposeful jog of the relief pitcher.

What about you? If you were to pick a good/beautiful word, what comes to mind? Are you moved by the beautiful word itself or by the concept?

Make me think, people! Make me think.


  1. I used to keep a list of words I especially liked....I wonder where it is? The first word that comes to mind is "perspicacious." Like you, beautiful words to me are those that have a peculiarity or that feel good in my mouth when I say them. There is a book, "100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language",subjective to the author, of course. Some on the list that delight me are "imbroglio", "insouciance", "onomatopoeia", and "tintinnabulation." Going for the meaning, though, my favorite is "Jesus."

  2. I like the word "deliberately," for both sound and concept. Another I like for both sound and concept is "comfortable"; I like it with four syllables (instead of comf-ter-bull), which I got gently teased for in high school. I like "epitome" and "epiphany," mostly for sound. I think I also like "epitome" because of the "learning later in life how to pronounce it" feeling.

  3. I vote for onomatopoeia (which, yeah, I had to look up the spelling). Its sound, coupled with its's just so whimsical!

  4. Have you ever heard the song "Bulbous Boufant" by the Vestibules? It is all about the way words sound, and it's one of our family's favorites. It's not actually a song. Here is a link to the video (it's a cartoon), but I think it's better to just listen to it, rather than see the video. It's kind of addicting.

    We love the way words sound in our house. We also love unusual words, and we sometimes congratulate each other when we've come up with a fun word that's really appropriate for the situation. Luckily, our daughter feels the same way :-)