Pretty words

Some words are captivating. Here are a few I’ve come across lately. They’re all related to linguistics. Maybe that’s why they appeal to me. Or maybe it’s just the way they sound. I’d be interested to know if you think these words are cute, and whether it’s because you’re a linguaphile too?

Bahuvrihi — a compound word like ‘lowlife’ or ‘sabertooth’, where the meaning of the word is not a type defined by one of its parts. A ‘sabertooth’ is a type of tiger, not a type of tooth. A ‘lowlife’ is a type of person, not a type of life. This property is significant, because it affects how we use the word in a sentence. For example, when talking about more than one of these things, we automatically use the regular plural rather than the irregular. So we say ‘I went back in time and saw a lot of sabertooths’ — not ‘saberteeth’. And we say ‘lowlifes’, not ‘lowlives’. Compare ‘workman’ (not a bahuvrihi, because a workman is a type of man) with ‘walkman’ (a bahuvrihi). We talk about many ‘workmen’. Can we say, ‘how many walkmen do you have’?

Dvandva — a compound word made of two equally-weighted nouns, like ‘girlfriend’ and ‘singer-songwriter’. These words have a similarly intriguing effect on our internal language generator, but let’s not go there šŸ˜‰

Synechdoche — that’s when you use part of something to refer to its whole. ‘I got me a new set of wheels’ means I bought a car, not just the wheels. When you ‘count heads’, you are counting the number of people, not just their heads.

And my favourite: hapax legomenon — a word or term which is used only once in a particular body of text.

This weekend I’ve been writing some Christmas cards, and struggling as usual to find the right words. Maybe I’ll drop in the odd hapax legomenon to spice things up šŸ˜‰

Thank you to Kate for lending me Words and Rules, the book in which I found these words. And to Steven Pinker for writing it.

Some tree news:

Here’s a tree recovering from a fire in the Manly Dam reserve:

Tree regrowth after fire

And here’s a grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) which survived the fire altogether:

grass tree survives fire


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 9 December 2007, in environment, language, trees and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language šŸ˜‰
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

    • Hallo Raiul
      Thanks for dropping by and I’m glad you enjoyed the words! Good luck with your English. It’s looking good.

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