People love words. Some love them more than others, admittedly, but to all of us language is important. If I was to randomly pounce on people in the street, and ask them to tell me their favourite word, I wager that after getting over the initial scare, almost all would be happy, willing, and able to offer a reply. Like anything where subjective opinion and self-expression are involved, there is no right or wrong answer, and, just as it would be if I asked for a favourite food, book, or film, the words on the list would vary dramatically.
The following ten words are those I currently consider to be my favourites. Of course as soon as I post this I’ll think of others, possibly better, but no matter, these ten are good’uns, be that because of how they look, how they sound, what they mean, or because of something less explicable. For whatever reason, they chime with me.
Brutal, savage, and putrid. These three gems have a wondrously evocative quality, and when used with a simple noun, have huge descriptive potential. Write the old couple survived the brutal winter, and in two words I see iron-hard earth, perishing hunger, and wind so cold it freezes blood.
Tmesis. Stephen fry taught me this odd-looking word in an episode of QI. It’s pronounced ‘tuh me sis’ and it means a word or phrase that is split, and then another word or words inserted between the parts. Tmesis can be used for added emphasis – and this is where it gets brilliant – so that you end up with deformed monstrosities like: anyoldhow, fanbloodytastic, and unbefuckinglievable. Tmesis I love you, but your babies aren’t pretty.
Heebie-jeebies. I get the heebies a lot and I’m glad there’s a special word for them.
Frippery. Oh, what’s not to love about the word frippery?!! It’s frivolous, flippant, flibbertigibbet, fritter and lippy, all rolled into three gauzy syllables.
Miasma. This beautiful sounding word floats off the tongue, but means ‘noxious atmosphere’, and in times gone past Those-That-Knew blamed this foul-smelling air for the rapid spread of disease in filthy areas of over-crowded, industrialised towns and cities. (Those of us who live, or have lived, in a confined space with a man will understand how they arrived at this theory. I often fear I might catch something fatal from one of those smells he produces.) Germ-theory eventually replaced Miasma-theory, whereby bacteria and not poisonous smells were found to be the culprits, but the dullness of the word germ can never compare to the poetic lilt of miasma.
Epic. This is controversial. Many people loathe it, but in a show of strident disregard for snotty attitudes to Pop Linguistics, I’m going to profess my love. As with Pop Music and Pop Art, purists will complain, but epic has burst into contemporary parlance in a pimped up Ford Revival honking it’s horn up the backsides of word-snobs everywhere, and it’s my guilty pleasure. ‘How was your trip to the supermarket, darling?’ ‘Oh. My. God. It was EPIC!!’ This tells us it was no ordinary trip. This trip is one of incident and anecdote. This trip to the supermarket will become the stuff of family legend. At the end of my life I hope they can write on my headstone: Here lies Amanda. She lived an EPIC life!! What more can you ask for?
Elevenses. It’s a shame I don’t get to use this word in everyday-speak because it makes me happy. I could think of little more wonderful than sharing daily elevenses – mugs of hot cocoa and a plate of iced buns – with Paddington Bear and Mr Gruber, in a glorious Antiques shop, as the kindly old man regales us with tales of Hungarian folklore.
Vajaja. I am proud to call myself a feminist, a person who will passionately defend the right to political, economic, and social equality for all women. But I do have hang-ups. One of those is hating the word (whisper it) vagina. Growing up we referred to our vaginas as front bottoms. Dreadful. (Don’t even mention farts being windypops…) Late last year I was introduced to the word vajaja (thanks Annie!!). True liberation! Now I can talk about my vajaja without cringing. I know what some of you are thinking. The word vajaja smacks more of a feather boa-clad, gin-soaked Hollywood has-been, than a fist-saluting, feminist warrior, but hey, let’s be honest, what girl doesn’t like a feather boa? (Or gin for that matter.) ‘This, my friends, is my VAJAJA!’ I will cry from the rooftops. ‘My beautiful, womanly Vajajajajaja!’ NB: if you actually see me doing this – flashing my vajaja on the rooftops – please be good enough to talk me down, then drive me home and pour me a very large gin.
Post Script: My ten worst words are: moist, firkin, rectum, phlegm (ugly, phonetic disaster zone, and it means infected snot. Bleugh), haitch (there is no ‘h’ at the beginning of the word that describes the letter ‘h’. The word is aitch. Not Haitch. Word-snob? Moi?), abs (I’m not great with unnecessary truncating of words. This amuses my husband who will call an aubergine an aub, and a wallet a wal, just to piss me off. But abs is the worst, primarily because I do not have them. So to all of you reading this with flat, muscular stomachs, they’re called abdominals, OK? Get your abs away from my ears), crux (as in the crux of the matter. A purely irrational hatred of a four-letter ‘c’ word), tissue (when pronounced tiss-yoo as opposed to tish-oo), and the last, the worst, the most HIDEOUS is…
…rumpy-pumpy. This hyphenated word throws one image at me and it’s not a pretty one. A sweaty, lecherous, aristocratic bufty-type, his eyes wide with glee as he claps his hands together, shouting: ‘Rumpy-pumpy. Rumpy-PUMPY! Pumpy, pumpy, PUUUUMMMMPY!’ This is imagery that no woman – or man – should ever have to endure. Rumpy-pumpy is unacceptable. I hereby decree that rumpy-pumpy be struck from the English language forthwith.
No. More. Rumpy-pumpy.
Do tell me your own best and worst words. I’d be fascinated to read them!