Dept. of Word Lists
Words About Words
You may remember an interview we did last year with Katie Raynolds, a remarkable 10th grader and dedicated linguaphile from Seattle, Washington. Well, Katie just spent a busy week with us here at the VT's New York office as our editorial intern! She graciously put together this word list:
I discovered when I searched through the Dept. of Word Lists that they're based on a subject a person is passionate about. So I thought, what is my passion? The answer clearly is: words! I found the following words that serve to describe other words, and I explain how we use them. For some I also included interesting stories about their origins.
Sibilant, a consonant characterized by a hissing sound (like s or sh). The word sibilant comes from the Latin word sibil (hiss), which is actually onomatopoeia for the sounds that a snake makes. Example of sibilance: Sally sells sea shell by the sea shore.
Spoonerism, transposition of initial consonants in a pair of words. This word is actually an eponym, named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who constantly mixed up his words when speaking: "A well-boiled icicle" (a well-oiled bicycle), "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" (It is customary to kiss the bride).
Malapropism, the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one that sounds similar. Malapropism is another eponym, this one from Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play, The Rivals. The name Malaprop came from the French phrase mal à propos (inappropriate) because the character used language inappropriately. Examples from Mrs. Malaprop: "She's as headstrong as an allegory (alligator) on the banks of the Nile." "He is the very pineapple (pinnacle) of politeness."
Euphemism, an inoffensive expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive. Examples: H-e-double hockey sticks for hell, pre-owned vehicle for used car, and darn vs. damn.