There are words and then there are … favorite words. Like, you know, cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, these are a few of my favorite—
You have favorite words, don’t you? I do.
Again, I don’t mean favorite phrases, like Awesome, dude. (Although I do love the phrase clotted cream, as you must surely know by now. I’ve worked it in to more than one post.) Another fave of mine is Just sayin’, which was roundly criticized as being a cliché by a reader of my post on clichés. (I’m claiming artistic license.)
But no, no, I mean words that are my faves because I just like the way they sound (and sometimes the way they look), separate from what they mean. Like …
amaryllis forsythia sublime
aspen frisson surpass
astilbe gossamer svelte
aubergine moss svengali
cusp precinct sycamore
December sartorial tessellation
esplanade sibilant whilst
This would seem to suggest I’m attracted to the S sound … and clearly I am. It’s sssoft and ssspecial and even sssexy, that sound. If I were writing about trees there would probably be an aspen or a sycamore among them. (Under the spreading aspen tree the village smithy … nah.) But I assure you the word Slytherin gives me the creeps just as it creeped out millions of Harry Potter readers. So it’s not just the sibilant.
See, I also like:
ardor green paradigm
bravura harbinger paradox
décolletage harmony penultimate
detritus lachrymose purview
egg lagniappe velvet
egregious lavender verbatim
epiphany melody verdant
French myriad verve
And there are others I like due to an emotional reaction I have to them, a probably not-complex-at-all fusion of humor and intellect and something that happened when I was three but no longer remember. These words just make me happy.
badger feline protuberance
bean gubernatorial (and the not unrelated goober)
bunny haphazard sassy
cabbage kerfuffle soup
chubby Madagascar tickle
conundrum meerkat waffle
discombobulate parsnip wombat
eggplant poppy zebra
Word Nerd True Confession: These highly unscientific lists of words came out of a little notebook I keep as a result of a poetry workshop I took years ago. They’re designed to inspire writing through imagery and sound. I think it’s a useful exercise, and fun (well, if you’re a fool for words like me). I am delighted when I come across one of them in something I’m reading. (OMG, lachrymose! He used lachrymose!)
I make lists of words when I’m brainstorming a writing project, too: copy for a Western-themed marketing piece was initiated by a list that included cowboy, cowpoke, buckaroo, buffalo gals, saddle, trail, blaze, lasso, maverick, campfire, pardner, howdy, and on and on. You’ve done it, I’m sure, when you were looking for a way to describe a character’s brown eyes (chocolate, coffee, nut) or black hair (raven, midnight, ebony, jet, pitch, obsidian—oh, stop). Your thesaurus is useful for these sorts of exercises (just don’t get too carried away with that thing, please).
But that’s work, of course, and this is play. And play is an important part of the creative process, I think. Make a list of your own favorite words and you’ll see what I mean. Try words you like the sound of, or words that make you laugh. Other exercises in the workshop included making lists of words that might be used to describe, say, winter. (Then we began writing poetry, but that’s another topic entirely. As is zombie apocalypse, the very idea of which. Just. Cracks. Me. Up. I am currently trying to work this phrase into my daily conversation. Check for today!)
So now I wonder this: Can we analyze a list of favorite words the way we analyze dreams … or the books on our friends’ bookshelves?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”