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Favourite Word

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September 15, 2012 by IPAlchemist

You know how sometimes you think of something, some people think it is a bit odd, and then things that you see around you reflect the idea?  And then something else feeds into it as well…?

Well, I have recently been involved in interviewing for a new trainee patent attorney.  It’s not an easy thing to spot talent for this job (or vocation as I consider it) in a science or engineering graduate, for whom writing and language skills have probably not been a regular part of their life for some time.

Anyway, I was thinking how I might approach this, and I decided to ask the candidates their favourite word – what is it, why, and what does it mean? (Mine by the way is squaloid [see more below], but preantepenultimate scores highly too).  Some of my colleagues laughed at this (literally), while some thought it was rather a good idea. I found it very helpful in the interview process, although it was clear that some of the candidates subscribed to the “this is very odd” school of thought on the issue.

Anyway, with my favourite words in my mind, @OxfordWords shortly after tweeted one of its words for the day – “porcine” (appertaining to pig).  So I thought of my word, squaloid (which means appertaining to shark) and tweeted it back to them.  A few tweets later and suddenly I am deeply involved in twitter conversation with @Hirst_Shark, Damien Hirst’s shark sculpture. No, really.

Then, in a further coincidence, on Friday, by a circuitous Twitter route, while on the bus into work, I came across an article online in The Atlantic (not a publication I had previously come across) about a gentleman called Ted McCagg (not a gentleman I had come across before either, but his blog Questionable Skills is here) who, by a heroic effort of comparing pairs of words and choosing the “best”, has found the Best Word.  Ever.  And…

The Best Word is “diphthong”.  A jolly good word, I am sure you will agree.  But one that lands us in another dilemma straight away.  Do you pronounce the “ph” as “f” or as “p”?  And, in the third serendipitous link, I had just a few days before been reading on the OUP blog about that very issue, in a lovely piece that you can read here by Anatoly Liberman.  This article makes clear that the “p” pronunciation is “substandard”.  But very common.  So common that some people go so far as to spell it without the first “h”.  (And Mr McCagg may have undone the good work he did by bringing “diphthong” to the attention of the world by being quoted saying “that silent ‘h’ in diphthong made all the difference.”  WHAT SILENT “H”?)

The OUP blog also taught me the wonderful word “monophthong”.  If you can slip that into a dinner party conversation you are doing very well.  The author complains that his spellchecker does not recognise the word.  Spellcheckers don’t recognise “squaloid” either, and I am fighting a battle in this post, as I always do with the word, having to go back and amend where computer has cheerfully substituted “squalid”.  Ho hum.

I will take some time to decide whether “diphthong” will over time replace “squaloid” as my favourite word.  It will have some work to do.  The reason I like it is because I needed it, and had to go and find it – I wanted to refer to the shark-like quality of a patent attorney poker player, and “sharky” doesn’t really cut it.  (Just as, I have discovered, when one wishes to refer to the monastic quality of something, “monky” doesn’t really do either.  In fact people seem to think it rather funny.)  So whereas most words I learnt, and then found ways to use, “squaloid” I needed, and had to go and find.  So I have a completely different relationship with it, compared with how I feel about the rest of my vocabulary.

Do feel free to contribute your own favourite words.  If you want some suggestions to get you thinking in the right direction, may I suggest you visit Questionable Skills.


11 comments »

  1. admin says:

    For the first few weeks of its life, including when this piece was posted, this blog was named the IP Geek and hosted at a different web address. I could not migrate the comments intact, but did not want to lose them entirely, so here they are for the record. I hope that copying them here may help you to get thinking about YOUR favourite word:

    Frederika Roberts
    September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm
    What a fantastic blog entry! Shelagh pointed me to this link and I’m so glad she did as it’s given me a much welcome 5 minute break from a rather tedious day.
    Hm…my favourite word…it depends on my mood but one that often figures high in the list is ‘scrumptious’. I love the way it sounds when said with gusto, and the way it looks and somehow really conjures up images of utter indulgence (well, it does for me, anyway).
    Keep up the great blogging!

    Gillian Caldicott
    September 20, 2012 at 8:19 am
    What a great word squaloid is – it’s one of those words that rolls nicely around the mouth when you say it.
    My personal favourite is “rhythm”. I love the idea of a word without vowels and I love anything with a good rhythm.

    James G
    September 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm
    Onomatopoeia is my favourite word in English (though I suppose it’s Greek). My favourite word in Russian is зеленный and of course my favourite word in Chinese is 蛊。I suppose if I had to have a favourite Japanese word it would be かわい, but it has to be pronounced in that very special way that Japanese girls say it, like when they see something festooned with Hello Kitty images.

    • IPAlchemist says:

      Thanks everyone for the great comments. To James – several people have mentioned onomatopoeia in the context of their favourite word. I have been surprised at this, as I didn’t think it was such a well-known word. I can tell my other readers that the Japanese word basically means “cute”, but, as you say, is said in a special way by Japanese girls. I am afraid you have stumped me with both the Russian and Chinese ones, so you may care to give us a translation!

      • James says:

        Зеленный (pronounced “zelyonny”) is the Russian word for “green” and is often named as one of the Russian language’s most beautiful-sounding words. 蛊 (prounounced “gu” in Mandarin, with the third tone, which falls, then rises) is a very uncommon word. Comprising the elements 虫 (which means “insect”) and 皿 (which means “jar”) the word refers to the poisonous creature that, when put in a sealed jar with numerous other poisonous creatures, is the last one to survive, and which would then be put in one’s enemy’s food to poisonous him. Comes in handy frequently.

    • =A= says:

      Continuing on from the blog, and in reference to Frederika’s comment, I thought it appropriate to point out that “scrumptious” does in fact contain a triphthong.

      However, whether this is a “trip” or a “triff” thong, I wouldn’t want to speculate.

      Anyway, my favourite word is “autonym” – and for similar reasons as the Alchemist. I had to find a word that defined a class of words I had spotted that all had a common characteristic.

      Autonym – a word that is its own definition.
      eg Pentasyllabic (it has five syllables, and means “a word with five syllables”), awkwardnessful (it is a very uneasy and clumsy word, and means “being very uneasy and clumsy”). I used to have half a dozen examples, but these are the only two I can now recall.

      Sadly, however, on re-researching the definition of autonym online before posting this comment, it does appear as though my definition is no-longer prevalent.

      So, I’m back to square one – if anyone can tell me the word that defines a word that is its own definition, I will have a new favourite word.

      =A=

  2. IPAlchemist says:

    Yesterday I got to play #OEDBirthdayWords on Twitter with @OEDOnline – they give you a word that first appeared in the year of your birth. I was jolly pleased with mine “humongous” – adj.: Extremely large; huge, enormous. A mightily fine word, I am sure you will agree.

  3. IPAlchemist says:

    I have received a couple of other good comments on Twitter. Firstly, the stalwarts at @OEDOnline and @OxfordWords have given more words added in 1970: ker-ching, laugh-out-loud, jobsworth, and labradoodle.
    @Patent Secretary points out the wonderful word “Obtention” as on Form PCT/IB/304 (…OBTENTION…OF PRIORITY DOCUMENT).
    Keep them coming!

  4. Ben Hoyle says:

    I have always had a fondness for “opine” as a verb – it somehow seems more civilised and tentative than various alternatives for “stating your own opinion without, and normally contrary to, available evidence or reason”.

    I am also quite fond of “probabilistic” – my difficulties pronouncing it somehow reflect its fuzzy, imprecise characteristics.

    Finally, a small #humblebrag. In a small village primary school, a fellow classmate and I were always ahead in spelling and timestables. We were thus tasked with coming up with horrendously long and complicated words to use in our spelling tests. My favourite was “nondenominational”. At the time I was unaware of its meaning, but on learning it much later, I quite enjoyed the connotations of slightly leftfield or crazed spirituality. (Coincidentally, I believe my classmate is now also a lawyer.)

  5. Andy Sharples says:

    Finally settled on one: omnishambles. Creative wordplay, and brilliantly evocative.

  6. Nice ‘blog! My favourite English word is mind’. I love this concise, direct, Anglo-saxon rooted word, which is very versatile, while at the same time very resonant. As a noun it can express intent: ‘I’ve a mind to teach him a lesson’; or a place (physical or comceptual) as in ‘you’ve been on my mind’; or the memory of an event ‘her year’s mind falls next week’. The same word as a verb is less interesting perhaps, but is always a powerful monosyllable: ‘yes, I do mind!’, for example. As an adverb it loses none of it’s meatiness: ‘I am mindful of the fact’. Amongst more highfalutin’ latinate words I’ve always thought ‘defenestration’ is particularly satisfying.

    I also have a favourite word in my second language, Dutch. ‘Natafelen’ (prefix ‘na’ = post + ‘tafel’ = table) has no direct equivalent in any language I know. It indicates the time after eating that people remain at table, talking and socializing. It has the sense of lingering, tarrying or wiling away, but in a very specific location and atmosphere, with the word for table used as a verb to describe, very concisely, the action of sitting at one.

  7. James Seymour says:

    Being a patent attorney, the word synecdoche is a particular favourite of mine. If you like QI then the recent episode on jargon is quite amusing – they included the word jigger which apparently has 28 different meanings – some confusingly similar.

  8. Rahul says:

    My favourite word is ‘philomath’ – Yes, I too searched for it, a few years ago, in order to define my habit of learning new things or reading about them. Next two favourite words of mine are: polymath and polyglot.

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