'Hippopotamus', he said,
'Sticklebrick', she said.
This was my friend Ben and I. The large water wallowing mammal was Ben's response to my question, 'What is your favourite word'. The prickly brick was my answer.
A highly unscientific bit of research followed this exchange. The method, all in the name of transparency, was to ask online, what people's favourite word was. The results were enjoyable and illuminating and the explanations were equally so. Christine said 'Squirrel - the word fills my mouth like a squirrel storing nuts'. Ruth responded with 'Kindle - makes me feel like a soft centre chocolate.'
Some seemed to be about the meaning more than, or at least as much as the actual word, for example Christian responded with 'Magnanimous - because it shows generosity of spirit and character', Andrew chose 'Serendipity' because 'I love it probably, like everybody, when good fortune comes when least expected.' Cath went for 'Cwtch - as they r the best'.
The sound of some words juxtaposed with their meaning, so from Tomos, the word 'Carfosiaeth' which looks beautiful on the page, all of those vowels jostling to be picked up and rolled off the tongue. He told me it means 'sewage' in Welsh.
There was something about the mouth feel, to borrow a beautiful word from gastronomy, the unami words for me came from Jess with 'Unctuous', 'Delicious' from both Norma and Helena, 'Lavish' from Carol. Dawn said 'Superfluous' and 'Surreptitious' came from Kev, undeniably two words that cause the mouth to salivate over those opening and closing letter 'S's' and all the lip movement that is required to form the bit in between.
Lynne responded with 'Verisimilitude - (because it) means something so precise and important' and quite possibly this is the nub for me, the precision and importance with which we use words. The words we choose to use, the reason we choose them, often means as much as the words we actually use. In a language where there are homophones like meet/meat; homonyms like sanction and a plethora of synonyms like disaster/ catastrophe; before we even get on to the business of heteronyms and homographs and then start thoughts of alliteration and onomatopoeia - we can begin to see not simply the complexity of our language but the power and the importance of using it well and using it wisely.
Throughout history words have been used to inspire, rally, terrify, comfort. Whether it was Elizabeth I's speech to the troops at Tilbury in 1588; Winston Churchill's many orations during the second world war; or the moment I stood in Washington D.C., looking at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, imagining the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. saying 'I have a dream...', collections of words have passed into popular culture, shaped history, they can make us fall in love or fall out and they have the power to mould and direct our future.
It baffles me therefore, that sometimes we use words with so little thought when their power is proven. On June 23rd, we will be asked to make a decision about whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. This will quite possibly be the most significant 'X' I or any of us ever write.
At this time we need words to be written and spoken that explain, provide truth, offer insight and maybe even some collective reassurance. We need carefully chosen words that inform us and help us to make a considered decision not a frightened one. We don't need fear or threat from either side, or a clinical, contrived collection of words designed to manipulate. We need passion, opinion and debate and above all words that form the basis upon which we can cast (I think that would be a homonym) a vote and understand and believe in what we are voting for.
One on the most powerful but also the smallest word that anyone responded with was from my friend Amanda. It is a word that is full of possibility, bursting with opportunity and what I would respond to anyone if they ask whether the pen is more powerful than the sword and by extension, is it important to use your vote - it seems a fitting close to a musing on the importance and power of words. From Amanda, and I have punctuated as she did, came the word 'Yes!'.
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