Feelings generated within us enable the meaning of words to make sense in the context of our own selves. Not the word’s definition or etymology but the effect it has on us. This may well have begun in childhood and will therefore rely on our subconscious remembrance of what word meanings evoke in our imaginations – the sensations they create in us.
Is the word one which makes us happy, sad, reflective, thoughtful? Does it have an impact on our senses – Sight, Sound, Touch, Vision, Smell?
Smell? How can a word smell, you may ask? Easy. What comes to mind with the word Sulphur, for instance? Can’t you just smell that burnt match, that rotten egg aroma? Even the “fuh” sound in the word conjures up something unpleasant on the nose!
Well, it does for me and I am certain it will have an effect for you – whether it is the same as mine depends upon how you derive a meaning of the word and if it is a different meaning fine, neither of us is wrong, we just have differing connections with the word.
I guess in one way we are considering the poetics of words but that is limiting the scope of how we find meaning in words somewhat. Poetics deals with the sound of words and that is great, but what about the visual element of a word?
One of my favourite words comes from my schooldays when my English teacher asked the class to consider the word Handkerchief. It conjures up lace cuffs and an eighteenth century coat or demure ladies in crinolines trying to overcome the effects of the ’vapours’. It is an evocative word.
It is a peculiarity of language that we must use words to describe words, synonyms, but hopefully you will now recognise that there are other ways of taking meaning from words and you will join me in this wonderfully sensuous journey as we consider the Beauty and Meaning of English Words.
In speaking of English words, I am referring to words which are now accepted as words used in the communication of the English tongue. Origins of many words will be Latin, French, German, Anglo-Saxon, Indian and so on; it is this wonderful intermingling of different languages that make English such a varied and often bemusing one. That however is not of concern in defining what an English word is in the context of this website. Let others argue whether a word belongs in the English dictionary or not because it is from Arabic descent and not of Teutonic root. We have other fish to fry.
That colloquialism reminds me to say that occasionally the word under consideration may in fact be two or three word combinations, such as Cui Bono. Yes, I know, it’s Latin but it is now part of the English language, so who gains by this? We do!