I love the word “spatula” because it sounds like its function. “Miasma” I love for its messiness. I like “alluvial” because it conjures Faulkner’s Mississippi, though that’s thanks to Bill, not any inherent quality of silt or clay. The first time I heard “epistemology” I decided it would be my favorite word, because of the crisp “st” sound and because I had no idea what it meant. Upon learning the meaning, I found it cumbersome and impractical to use. Rarely am I trying to describe something as metaphysical as the theory behind knowledge or truth. Knowledge and truth alone are daunting enough to me.
I take for granted what a luxury language is, especially the decadence of superfluous words. In Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, baby Eugene serves as a window into the hell that life would be without words:
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth [...] Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.
Pretty deep for a two-month old. Newborn woes aside, I can’t help but have a deep love for some words, for their beauty, their necessity, their extravagance. I was reminded of how much I love “spatula” while perusing Robert Krulwich’s blog. Krulwich is a Science Correspondent for NPR, and co-hosts the show Radiolab. A recent post of his featured a tournament bracket pitting, not NBA teams, but words against each other. This is the brainchild of illustrator and social commentator Ted McCagg. You can check out his process (a painstakingly thorough one) to determine the word champion here. It’s worth checking out if only to see if “phantasmagoria” beats “phlegm” in the P bracket.
Feel free to use your favorite word when you contact Renee Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.