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.

Eponym, a name derived from the name of a person (real or imaginary). Examples: Achilles tendon (Achilles the Greek hero), Freudian slip (Sigmund Freud), Louisiana (King Louis XIV).

Onomatopoeia, words that imitate the sound that they denote. Examples: Pow! Bam! (a type of onomatopoeia that was made popular in comic books), chickadee, meow.

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.

Palindrome, a word or phrase that reads the same backward as forward. Examples: Kayak, So patient a doctor to doctor a patient so, A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.

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."

Antinomasia, substitution of a title for a name, or vice versa. Examples: An Einstein is "a smart guy," William Shakespeare is The Bard, and Queen Elizabeth is Her Majesty.

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.

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Comments from our users:

Saturday April 28th 2007, 1:10 PM
Comment by: Brian E.
My nephew flashed me a quizzical look when I asked him to sit down and write such a strange sounding phrase. When he 'read' it backwards, a wry smile spread across his lips. "How do you spell palindrome again?"
Monday April 30th 2007, 12:37 PM
Comment by: Jerry M.
Did you forget acronym?
Monday April 30th 2007, 3:40 PM
Comment by: Pawel S.
Hey Katie,
You'll appreciate "zeugma." Perhaps it will make it into another list.

Tuesday May 1st 2007, 1:02 AM
Comment by: John P.
Tuesday May 1st 2007, 11:58 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Don't worry, I didn't forget acronym, I simply chose to show some more obscure and unknown wordy words for you all to enjoy!
Tuesday May 1st 2007, 11:23 PM
Comment by: Nur N.
Sunday May 6th 2007, 9:47 PM
Comment by: Cynthia W.
What fun!
Sunday May 6th 2007, 11:55 PM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Spoonerism, I never realized there was a name giving to that type of speach.
Thursday July 12th 2007, 5:40 PM
Comment by: vernitta T.
I teach grade 12 English for the first time in career as an educator this coming year, can anyone assist me with information regarding obtaining an up-to-date list of SAT words?

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