5 Words About Words

alphabetThe English language is wonderfully complex. That’s why it requires wonderfully complex words to describe how it works. For this week’s blog, I’ve turned the spotlight on five words that describe the quirky ways we use the language. It’s fitting that these words are quirky in themselves.

And here they are, these weird and wonderful words.

 1. Diphthong

No, it’s not a type of undergarment. It’s a string of vowel sounds that are pronounced as one syllable, words like boil or ear. It’s characterised by the fact that your tongue moves up and down as you pronounce them, even though it comes out as a unified sound. It comes from the Greek dipthongos, sound.


  1. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is not a remarkably stupid bull. It’s a pair of words that contradict each other. We use the phrase ‘living death’ to describe people with Alzheimer’s. When we argue, we agree to disagree. Even the origin of oxymoron is a contradiction in terms. It comes from a mix of Latin and Greek: oxus, meaning sharp, and moros, meaning stupid.

  1. Plosive

Plosive sounds are satisfying to make. They’re your Bs and your Ps. Your mouth sounds as if it is exploding a little as you say them. The sound is created by an abrupt stop, when your mouth snaps shut as you make it. It comes from the French explosive. Ironic that the word plosive itself creates an explosive sound.

  1. Mondegreen

We’ve all had that experience of discovering that we’ve been singing the wrong song lyrics all along. But there is actually a word for it – a mondegreen. It comes from a Scotswoman called Sylvia Wright, who consistently sang a line from a popular Scottish ballad as “Lady Mondegreen” instead of Lady Mondegreen. The best one I came across recently was that vexed lyric in The Stranglers. It’s “lays me down, with my man she runs, not, as so many thinks, “lays me down, with my mancheerons.”

  1. Aposiopesis

In writing, there’s nothing more tantalising than the sentence left unfinished. And there’s a name for that. Again, we’re in debt to Ancient Greek for this word; it means “becoming silent.” It occurs when a sentence deliberately trails off to create suspense. Something like, “Everything was quiet, but then…” or “Stay still, or else-.”

Can you think of similar quirky words about words? Or examples of the words I have described?


2 thoughts on “5 Words About Words

  1. 6: rumbelow! A string of syllables, usually nonsensical which form a refrain ie: yo ho ho ( and a bottle of rum) 🙂 such a fun word! Thanks Derbhile!


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