The View From Here: Words


Volodymyr Kish.

I love words. Aside from the fact that they are the fundamental building blocks of my craft, I also have a real affection for their inherent personalities. Yes, indeed, words have personalities. To appreciate that, one must look beyond the actual meaning of words and try and appreciate their purely esthetic and existential qualities.

For example, there are words that have an intrinsic aura of sophistication and grace, such as fallacious, filigree, pusillanimous, sibilant and solicitous. There are words that have an obvious musical character, such as melodious, pheromone, reverberate and euphonious. There are playful words – lollapalooza, pimpernel, rapscallion and bamboozle. There are words that are stern and to the point, such as curt, bunk, terse, abrupt and stark. You don’t want to mess with those words! There are words that are decidedly intellectual – semiotic, presumptive, palimpsest and reprobate. Conversely, there are words that are obviously lower class such as fart, barf, nit and spit.

There are words that have a lot of what I call the wit factor. One good example of this is bardolatry, which means excessive admiration of Shakespeare, or constellate, which means to gather in a cluster or group. Another is sesquipedalian, which means somewhat ironically, the unnecessary use of overly long words.

There are ominous and foreboding words – eerie, fetid, despondent and creepy. There are boring words such as whatever, sigh, yawn and banal. There are also words that just feel good rolling of the tongue – ameliorate, libidinous, peripatetic and repetitious. I love words that have a comic flavor to them such as jingoistic, pandemonium, pipsqueak and dipsomania.

And there are those that make you cringe – gangrene, scrofulous, putrid and excruciating. There are words that I have no idea what they mean, but I like the way they sound – absquatulate, bindlestiff, concinnity, emmetropia and sternutator.

Amongst my favourites are words that linguists classify as having onomatopoeia, that is to say words that reflect the sound that they are describing. There are countless examples of this such roar, croak, cuckoo, snip, bang, splash, snort, screech, hoot and grunt.

One of my favourite categories of words are those that were invented or first coined by William Shakespeare. He is reputed to have introduced some 1700 words to the English language, including bandit, barefaced, champion, critic, discontent, eyeball, gloomy, gossip, lonely, majestic, moonbeam, negotiate, outbreak, summit, torture, worthless and grovel. As an aside, no one can really say definitely how many words there are in the English language, but it is likely somewhere between five hundred thousand and a million, more than any other language on this planet.

Of course, I would be remiss in this article if I did not also include some Ukrainian counterparts to the distinctive words noted above.

Ukrainian is also rich in onomatopoeiac words. One of my favourites is “smarkach”, a word that my cousin Hryts uses when he refers to impertinent young people (a category I often fall into). It basically means a runny-nosed kid and obviously reflect the sound such a kid would make. Other grand examples are “kashliaty” (to cough), “svistaty” (to whistle), “pliunuty” (to spit), “burkotyty” (to grumble), “khropity” (to snore), “shepotity” (to whisper), and “khliapaty” (to splash).

On the intellectual side, we have such haughty words such as “velmoshanovniy” (distinguished), “vidradzhuvanya” (dissuasion) and “prozornist” (transparency). On the other end of the class spectrum we have such words as “bardak” (chaos, disorder) and “Khuylo” (the polite definition is a degenerate, the street definition is unprintable!)

There are many colourful and playful words in Ukrainian. My mother used to make an impromptu stir-fry called “shalamakha” of whatever happened to be in the fridge. Another interesting word I remember my parents using was “shurya-burya” which referred to a particularly strong storm. My cousin Hryts is particularly fond of the word “penyok” (tree stump) which he often invokes in describing me (i.e. you are as dumb as a “penyok”). I always liked the word “bomzhyk” which I learned in Ukraine is used to describe a street bum or worthless person. Related words used to describe a fool or an idiot were “bambula” and “yolop”.

I love words, and could go on forever, but it is time for one more word, namely goodbye, which for those interested in etymology is the contraction of the ancient parting phrase “God be with you!”