These Are a Few of My Favourite Words

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
brown paper packages tied up with strings.
These are a few of my favorite things.

 In life, it is the little things that make your day. Like Julie Andrews sang, these favourite things, the blue sky, the smell of freshly brewed coffee or the sound of crunching paper can make you feel just that little bit better. But what about words? As a language student, I have an innate love of words. To me, words are so much more than just a means of communication. In fact, according to Laurent Binet communication is only one of the seven functions of language. Words can be beautiful, not only in meaning but also in sound; they can evoke emotions through their mere phonetics. I often find poems and lyrics not only beautiful because of their meaning, but also because of the sheer sound of their pronunciation. In that way words seem to resemble music, which has the same inexplicable ability to touch on basis of sound instead of the (arbitrary) meaning we tie to it. Recently I rewatched one of my favourite films, Donny Darko, and my attention was immediately drawn to a conversation about language: “This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful.” The term cellar door is not beautiful because of its semantics in this case, but because its phonetics. One could maybe say that cellar door is aesthetic. This made me wonder, what are my favourite words? It turns out I have many, some because of their sound and some of their meaning.

For instance, there is Serendipity.

erendipity /ˌsɛr(ə)nˈdɪpɪti/ [mass noun] The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

I have never been a fan of shopping. Every time I purposely went to the shops to search for whatever I needed at that moment, I came home with nothing. Or, if anything, a sense of defeat, annoyance and physical insecurity. However, as cruel fate will have it, whenever my pockets are empty and I have no need for anything in particular, I always happen to stroll into a shop and want to buy everything inside. But serendipity is not only that. To me, it is the surprise of a friend bringing you a coffee when you didn’t even know you wanted one, it’s the hero you didn’t know you needed. It’s a random act of kindness from the universe, as well as a great title to watch at a cheesy movie night.

While Serendipity remains a favourite because of its definition, Iridescent is phonetically, as well as semantically pleasing.

Iridescent /ˌɪrɪˈdɛs(ə)nt/ [adjective] Showing luminous colours that seem to change when seen from different angles.

It seems that it is both phonetically and semantically aesthetic. I can’t explain why iridescent is so phonetically pleasing to me, however the semantic aspect I can somewhat explain. Iridescent things are never just one thing. They are not just one colour, they are all colours and none at the same time, and I feel the same way as a person. As Tobias Eaton explains: “I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless. Intelligent and honest and kind.” Iridescent reminds me of finding sea shells on the shore, of blowing bubbles and oil stains. But most of all, I reminds me that I don’t have to choose between the persons that I want to be.

I could argue that words like serendipity and iridescent are easy to love because I understand the language that they belong to, but not all my favourite words are English. For instance, there’s mamihlapinatapai.

Mamihlapinatapai /ˌmɑːˈmiːlɑpiːnɑtɑpaɪ/ [noun] A look shared between two people, each wishing to initiate something they both desire but which neither wants to begin.

 Mamihlapinatapai originate from Yaghan, a language spoken on Tierra del Fuego. As a hopeful romantic, this word says a lot to me. It is the caption of two ships passing in the night, a shared wish that lacks the courage to be realised. Although I don’t consider myself a coward, I have found myself in this situation multiple times. One where I am disappointed in another as much as myself, because of the inability to add to each other’s happiness. Mamihlapinatapai was once listed as the most succinct word in the Guinness Book of Records. With that, it is also one of the hardest words to translate, much like the Dutch Gezellig, and therefore all the more special.

Last but not least, there is a very simple word that I hold dear, and that is book. Or actually, its French equivalent livre. Simply because I would like to think that reading a book is as close to liberty as livre is to libre.

Livre /livʁ/ [noun] A portable volume consisting of a series of written, printed, or illustrated pages bound together for ease of reading. Something considered as worthy of study, a source of instruction, or an example from which to learn.


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