Over the years, several LL posts have documented the irrational aversion that people sometimes feel to certain words — a strong negative reation that is apparently not related to the meaning, or to any alleged fault in grammar or usage, but to the sound or feel of the word itself. (See the links in "Moist aversion: the cartoon version", 8/27/2008, for a review of this strange phenomenon.)
I've been meaning for some time to take up the question of whether there's a positive counterpart to word aversion, an irrational lexical exuberance that we might call "word attraction". To that end, I've been saving up Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur for 11/28/2005, where Danae & Joe exhibit a candidate behavior:
We can find some other possible examples by searching the web for a string like "my new favorite word is": netizens proclaim their delight in bat shit, elopment, oniomaniac, electrochemiluminescence, heinous, wowsers, zombieconomy, wanderlust, swussy, awkward, schnitzel, earmark, sub-Turing, trajectory, enfluffen, defenestration, upcycle, Baracknophobia, toevage, buffoonery, chamfering, bomblet, poppy crop, flotilla, and so on.
These positive reactions are of course diverse — some do involve irrational attraction to the sound or feel of a word or phrase, but many involve pleasure in a clever coinage, or a newly-discovered word with a meaning perceived as useful. In any case, these reactions rarely seem to have the intense, sustained, long-term focus of the previously-documented cases of word aversion. In comparison, the positive feelings of word attraction usually seem fickle and evanescent.
Furthermore, the candidates for "word attraction" mostly seem to be oriented towards the pleasures of production, along the lines of "I love the way it feels to say ___", whereas most of the "word aversion" cases seem to be symmetrical between production and perception.
Here are some web examples.
OK, don't judge me by my favorite word. It's concubine. I don't love it for it's meaning just the way it sounds. It's a really fun word to say. Porcupine might be my second fav but it's just not as fun as concubine. Growing up I went to christian school so I would find anyway possible to talk about concubines in Bible class just so I could say the word. It just makes me smile =)
My favorite word is discombobulated. There are so many different sounds and I love the way it feels to say the word. Weird I know, but it's my favorite!
Defenestration. Yep it has some ugly historical connotations, but the word itself is glorious. Perhaps because fenestra (latin for window) is such a gorgeous word and throwing things out if windows (when they aren't people, that is) seems like such a frivolously lovely pursuit. I wish I lived in a tall cylindrical tower dotted with bubble glass windows. Then I could defenestrate flower petals, bird seed, prayer flags, feathers, vegetable cuttings, and yes, perhaps even lemongrass seaweed with considerable panache.
Hedgehog! I love the sound, the arrangement of consonants, the accidental alliteration. I also love the word hedge on its own but the word hedgehog truly rules – in fact, I wish it were my last name! Then I could roll through life like a true champion of the forest and not worry about my feet getting dirty. Glorious!
Persimmon – I love the way it forms on my lips, and I always smile. I work for a horticulture publication and every spring/summer I look forward to meetings because invariably it comes up.
How on earth could I pick just one favorite word?! I used to love the word "torque". Sounds tough. I also love "breathe" and "hope". I say "fabulous" all the time. And if I get the word "diverticulitous" stuck in my head, it will be there for days. I'm sure I spelled it wrong.
Wakarusa. It is the name of a street in a neighboring city and everytime I see it and/or say it it makes me smile!
I think I like the word Kumquat the best. Say it. See, wasn't that fun? I don't even necessarily care for kumquats, but I sure do enjoy the word! Seriously, say it.
I would have said this was a tautology, mostly because I really like the way that word sounds, but then I looked up the word the other day and found I wasn't always using it correctly. This may or may not be one of those situations. Possibly both.
Crisp. I love the different meanings of it: crisp air, a crisp apple, crisp sheets. I love the onomatopoeia of it. I love how it feels to say it, the s and then the quick coming together of the lips on the p. It has long been my favorite word.
lucy_anne: So what is your favorite word?
janni: Atlatl. Because it's so much fun to say. :-)
lucy_anne: I'd heard a rumour that you did enjoy saying that word. Repeatedly. Unfortunately it was difficult to make out because of all the other people saying Atlatl. ^_^ (Personally, I like the word "fondant." Pliable stuff you put on pastries to turn them into just about anything in the world. Like play doh for cakes)
From my veranda (boy I enjoy saying that word, "veranda") I can see about four miles away a grove of white or black oaks
"Monongahela" I have no Idea but I really enjoy saying that word
It seems they have a personal vendetta (I enjoy saying that word) ;) against MSN and his movie.
I haven't found any positive equivalents of moist, which is often enough disliked to have its own haters group on facebook, but plethora and plinth each seem to have a few fans. The Wordie page for plinth includes these comments:
Plinth. I just love saying this word. Plinth. Plinth. Plinth.
This is scary, reesetee. I was just thinking "plinth, I love saying that word". I went to put it on my list of favorites and what do I find? "Plinth. Plinth. Plinth." Indeed!
Someone told me this was the sexiest word a woman could say, and I subsequently realised she was right. When you say plinth, your lips first press together gently, then part; the tongue peeks seductively out from under the teeth, then the ‘th’ sound is softly breathed through the invitingly open lips.
Wow, an earworm that isn't a song…
And there are a few positive reactions to plethora out there, for instance:
Plethora. I remember the first time I learned this word, and boy did I over use it! haha! Everything was plethora, "I need a plethora of sleep." I just like it.
Plethora. I just like the way the pl combination feels in my mouth! Always have
In an earlier post ("Ask Language Log: The moist panties phenomenon", 8/20/2007), I cited examples of people using word aversion to tease their friends:
gwbjdk: The word Crudd (sp?), in place of dirt, and the word Chunks. It just sounds so gross. My husband will use them sometimes, just to see me give that yucky face I always give when hearing them.
Chrissy341: I don't really have any, but my sister hates the words moist and the word panties (not together lol). So whenever I have cake I always tell her how moist it is so #1 she grimices (sp?) and #2 more cake for me!!!
ladykatya: My sister also hates the words 'moist' and 'panties'. I, however, find it HILARIOUS to walk behind her at the mall whispering over and over "moist panties. moist panties. moist panties". She turns this lovely shade of red as she gets more upset with me. ;)
I can't imagine a man teasing his wife by saying "schnitzel" and "enfluffen" just to watch her smile; or a young woman repeatedly whispering "poppy crop" or "plinth" to make her sister melt ecstatically in the mall.
The closest web examples that I've found:
Pamplemousse – it's french for grapefruit. Someday I will come up with a small side business concept and that will be what I call it. I just love the way it sounds. The first time I heard it I was hooked. After that my husband jokingly called me his 'petit pamplemousse' and I try to encourage this at all times. Doesn't always work, but it does always make me smile.
TOP TEN: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Voting For Schwarzenegger – he has a double-digit lead against Democratic challenger Phil Angelides going into the California Gubernatorial Election. I purposely typed in "Gubernatorial" thinking Dave would enjoy saying that word. I was right. There's something about the word "gubernatorial" that's fun to say. Dave enjoyed saying "Gubernatorial."
And I did find one example of lexical group glee:
My favourite word is Ouaouaron (pronounced wa-wa-ron), being Acadian French for bullfrog. The word is rooted in Canadian Iroquois, but when said with a French Canadian accent it sounds exactly like a bullfrog. When I was little, we used to chase after the frogs, regardless of what kind they were, yelling "Ouaouaron! Come back Ouaouaron!", and then rolling down the hills laughing.
If you know any cases where specific words reliably trigger intense positive emotions both in production and in perception, not because of what they mean but merely by virtue of the way they sound or feel, please let us know.