Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School


Love of language…

Congratulations. You made it.

Of course, our work doesn’t end after the exam. It’s time for a different kind of study of language to take center stage. (Or as the first of Orwell’s rules might have me rewrite that, it’s time for language to enter the scene and chew a little scenery.) We start with linguaphilia, a word formed from the Latin lingua,”tongue” or “language,” and phila, “dear” or “beloved.”  It means a love of language, of words and phrases, of how we strings together letters and sounds to make meaning—and it is the subject of your next unit of study. Our essential questions:

  • Is the English language truly in decline?
  • Do semantic debates matter?
  • How do Internet-driven shifts in communication, such as texting and LOLspeak, affect us?

Let’s get into the background reading. I’ve already given you in this post the first (and arguably most influential) modern treatment of it: George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” Spend a little time with this, and it will inevitably shape how you scavenge the texts around you for words and phrases. You’ve also read Geoffrey Nunberg’s “The Decline of Grammar,” a lengthier argument from 1983 that explores the same issues—it was one of the passages on the 2001 multiple-choice practice exam. After the jump, you’ll find a regular plethora (as opposed to an irregular plethora? I just like the assonance of the phrase) of links to more perspectives, plus your assignment.

The more contemporary work of lingauphiles must begin with David Foster Wallace, whose 2001 essay on the democracy of English, “Tense Present,” is well worth reading in full. Wallace gives you, along with Orwell and Nunberg, three critical surveys of the language around us, each one striving to articulate the line between form and function, meaning and artistry, grammar and morality, and so on. Read them well; they are your guides to a more insightful consideration of the words and phrases you like and dislike.

Of course, they are not the only background available to you. You might begin with, a blog devoted to everything from the writing of Stanley Fish to YouTube videos on cursing. You might look in the archives of Schott’s Vocab, a language-based feature in The New York Times; this entry on favorite words is especially germane.

One of the more insightful essays on the power of words is this essay on adverb use; its focus on science-fiction belies its usefulness in every kind of writing, from academic essays to poetry. Continuing in a contemporary vein, you might read about Ammon Shea, the man who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary; this article from The LA Times pulls out some of the best words from his account (and offers you links to buy the book itself).

If you are interested in how dictionaries expand their contents, you should look for the lists of new entries that appear each year. This compilation of new words is drawn from various dictionaries in 2008; here is the list for Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2009; and while the aim is decidedly satirical, South Park mixes insight with their crudeness in the 2009 language-centric episode “The F Word.”

Your discussion will not be centered around words alone (like Orwell, Wallace, and Nunberg, we are looking at all aspects of the language we use, from idioms to slang to spelling), but this post will be. In the comments section, you will exchange and analyze and celebrate your favorite words and phrases. Provide your selection, offering a quick explanation as to why. You might turn to the (poorly updated) site My Favorite Word, which has some interesting entries, including a master list of sorts; of course, you should primarily use the background reading to focus your insight. In fact, I will delineate the links embedded in the preceding paragraphs, so that you can organize your approach:

The next post will give you the chance to discuss your least favorite words and phrases, if you find yourself drawn to the critical tones of some of the authors above. You may even use that space for jeremiads (one of my favorite words); for now, let’s celebrate the language we like. Limit yourself to one word or phrase per comment; feel free, however, to comment more than once. Remember to reply to your peers and track replies to you.


59 responses to “Linguaphilia

  1. Chris Smith May 14, 2013 at 10:12 am

    “Extraordinary” – going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.

  2. Victoria Iarusso May 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Diaphanous meaning light, delicate, translucent.

    • Chris Smith May 15, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Very good good choice, Victoria. The word sounds like its definition; light, thin, ephemeral, and it provides a general air of lightness. It’s difficult to say “Diaphanous” with a stern or angry tone; the word is simply too light to be used offensively or out of proper usage. Excellent choice.

  3. Andrew Genussa May 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

    My favorite word is “bold” because it is what it describes. “Bold” stands strong, as it is monosyllabic and the actual appearance of the word is rectangular. It is kind of like a building block, or a foundation that one builds upon. It is a word that can be felt by all of the senses.

    • Jess Eminizer May 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      I very much like and admire your reasoning behind this choice.

    • Chris Smith May 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Your reasoning behind this choice is impressive; you give a very good breakdown of why the word has its connotations. I might be slow for admitting this, but I didn’t really notice the rectangular structure of the word until it had been pointed out to me, but once you did, I feel kind of like I can physically see the presence of how bold affects the passage it is put into. Very good choice, Andrew.

  4. Jessica Jackson May 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

    My favorite word is “ineffable” and I have to thank Ms. Racic for this one because she would always talk last year about how it was her favorite word. It means too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words which I love for it’s irony because they actually do have a word for it.

  5. Kyle Riccardi May 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Ventriliquist: one who uses or is skilled in ventriloquism; especially : one who provides entertainment by using ventriloquism to carry on an apparent conversation with a hand-manipulated dummy

  6. Conor Mitts May 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

    “Provocative” – Causing provocation, inciting, stimulating, irritating, or vexing;deliberately. Arousing sexual desire or interest, esp. deliberately.

  7. Colin Cavanagh May 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    My favorite word is “ostensibly,” meaning outwardly appearing as such, professed, or pretended. As far as why this is my favorite word, I honestly don’t know, but I often find myself using it, especially when I am just thinking to myself.

  8. Olivia Headen May 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    The action or habit of estimating something as worthless. (The word is used chiefly as a curiosity.).

    • Chris Smith May 15, 2013 at 10:36 am

      I’m reminded of a certain word; hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, or the fear of long words. Of course, this is only what I recall when I see words that go past the regular length of 3-5 syllables. I sure this will commence the floccinaucinihilipilification of my peers as a side effect, but ah well.

  9. Eiman Khan May 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    My favorite word is “wanderlust” which means: strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.

  10. Jessica Lau May 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I’d have to say that I don’t really have a favorite word. There are so many words out there in our language that we all use, I can’t decide what I like the best. Some words sound “funny” to us because of the way they are pronounced, so that’s why some people prefer those words over others. Some words have similar definitions to others. For me, I don’t really care how a word is pronounced or if one word “sounds” better than others. I tend to use certain words interchangeably depending on the situation at hand based on what people associate that word with, so that I don’t sound inappropriate in a conversation. It doesn’t mean I like certain words more than others though. All that matters to me is that English is a versatile language, but some words are to be used more appropriately in certain situation.

  11. Ashleigh Titre-Barnor May 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I do not have a favorite word. There are so many words in the world that we have not even heard of yet. However, some words make me laugh and some words are to big for me to say (or want to comprehend). I love hearing words in diverse languages. Also, when someone saying the words have some type of an accent(s). Words seem more complex as well as more beautiful.

  12. Marissa Milazzo May 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    “Boss” definition: “a person who employs or superintends workers; manager.” definition: “a person who is a leader, someone who runs sh*t in his/her hood or city.”
    I don’t like this word because I think I’m a ‘boss’, I like this word because it’s amazing how our society can change such a simple word to a completely different definition. I find it extremely funny and interesting and I really do appreciate the way ‘boss’ rolls off the tongue.

    • Conor Mitts May 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

      I really like your reasoning for “boss” being your favorite word. I agree I think it’s one of the coolest things when over time a word takes on totally different meanings due to the slang that catches on in our society. Words like that, which have two totally different meanings depending on where and who your with, are the most interesting and complex of words.

  13. Andrés Jacobs May 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm


    These people were the spiritual guides of their societies and were held in high regard. This is also my class in World of Warcraft (sucky as we may be) plus it sounds pretty damn awesome.

  14. Kait Donohue May 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    I hate to admit it but I love the word “like.” Although it is not proper and annoys most people when one inserts “like” in the middle of each clause, sentence, or moment of thought, I love this bad habit (Even though it is a habit most people should break). I find it so interesting that such a simple word could be used to link thoughts and fill moments of thought. I also find it interesting how it’s so widely used, probably most with female teenagers though (Haha).

  15. Jess Eminizer May 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I have very many favorite words. I would say my top five are, in no particular order: peculiar, splendid, zeitgeist, vernacular, and singe. (Choosing five is very hard and, if given much more time, I would probably come up with a few replacements.)
    I love the way these words sound, and how they fit into phrases and stories. I love their specificity, and their meanings. (Zeitgeist, for those unfamiliar, means “the spirit of the times.”) I love their versatility, and what they can do for tone.

    My favorite phrases are more complicated. I would generalize that format to a phrase that includes some unique syntactical inversion, a perfectly chosen adjective, and a certain undefinable deliberacy. I like phrases that flow and don’t have fear about conforming to unnecessary grammatical regulations and don’t worry about being ‘useless.’ (For example, this sentence from Fahrenheit 451: “Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it.”)

  16. Catherine Caputo May 15, 2013 at 10:28 am

    The word “soft” always put a nice image in my mind.

  17. Mishell Pacheco May 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I have a two favorite words that go together. It rolls off the tongue. It sounds calm and peaceful to me. Cellar Door.

  18. Jared Hunter May 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

    “Humanoid” could quite possibly be my favorite word, as it is almost ironic in a way. The basic function behind it is describing a being that resembles a human, but is not a complete human specimen as it may partake in ‘otherworldly’ rituals, contain lesser or grander amounts of bodily fluids/limbs, items of that nature. What really fascinates me about the word, is it’s history as there have been little to no ‘humanoid’ species discovered on or our planet, but the word has been fostered and founded through speculation (heavily based on the ideals of Darwinism).

  19. Conor Mitts May 15, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Sus is another one of my favorite words. You can’t really explain sus. You either know sus or you don’t know sus. Sus is sus

  20. Jessica Lau May 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    When I do think of words I like more than others, they are words with unique connotations, connotation I like, or words that are hardly used. One of these words that fall under these categories is “proactive” the dictionary definition of this words is “dealing with an unexpected difficulty in advance”. I am proactive about my tasks a lot of times, but one of my goals is to become more proactive so that I can accomplish more. I think proactive people accomplish a lot and are generally smart.

  21. Lindsey Ragan May 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Bliss. Love the word “bliss.” Although it is merely a synonym for happiness, euphoria, joy, there’s just something about it that makes it more carefree, pure, and delightful. Moreover, the sound of the word also comes so naturally and lightly to the tongue that saying it almost feels good.

  22. Amanda Rizzotti May 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    One of my favorite words is “serendipity”. The definition of this word is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”. I love the happiness that this word conveys. In speech, it flows fluidly and easily. It just comes across as peaceful and happy.

  23. Tomi Alade May 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    My favorite word is “swerve”. It’s literal meaning is “an abrupt change in direction”. But the meaning that makes it one of my favorite words, is its slang meaning. It came from a song by Big Sean and urban dictionary says it means to dodge or dismiss someone. I just like the way swerve sounds.

  24. Jessica Lau May 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Another word that came to mind I happen to like, though it is very rarely used is “solace”. It means “comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness”. I tend to stress out a lot, so I often find things to do to calm myself down or use as a calming outlet, such as listening to music. “Solace” also sounds so unique since it is hardly used.

    • Andrew Genussa May 17, 2013 at 12:11 am

      I happen to use the word “solace” often in common conversation. I think it describes such a unique feeling. The word “peace” is almost overused, so “solace” to most people has a profound impact.

  25. Danielle O'Brien May 15, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    My favorite word is “industrious” because it means hard working which I feel is a great characteristic to have. Also being hard-working most of the time sets a precedent of being loyal and determine, which I also feel are good characteristics to have. Industrious also sounds really cool and also at first glance doesn’t seem like it would mean hard-working, which I also like about the word.

  26. William Eckner May 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Bathos: “a ludicrous descent from the exalted or lofty to the commonplace; anticlimax.”
    I learned this word fairly recently. It came up because it describes the writing of Douglas Adams, one of my favourite authors, quite well.

    • Jess Eminizer May 16, 2013 at 10:06 am

      I didn’t even know there was a word for that. It’s fantastic. Thanks for bringing it into my life.

  27. Daniel DePaoli May 15, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    A phrase that I like is, “The man in the glass.” It’s from a poem that that explains how the only person you should look to satisfy in their judgement of you is yourself.

  28. Daniel DePaoli May 15, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    As for my favorite word, I would have to say…
    “Domination”: a. Control or power over another or others.
    b. The exercise of such control or power.
    Webster’s New World College Dictionary:
    1) to rule or control by superior power or influence: to dominate a group.

    2) to tower over (other things); rise high above (the surroundings, etc.): a building that dominates the city

    3) to have foremost place in: to dominate a baseball league

  29. Will Eckner May 15, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Another one of my favorites is “Tempest in a Teapot.”

  30. Will Kelmenson May 16, 2013 at 6:40 am

    If something is idiosyncratic, it may have some sort of unique characteristic that sets it apart from the rest.

  31. Michael Kubenik May 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

    My favorite word is bed. It is because of what it is – a bed. If you look at the word itself it actually looks like a bed. The post on the beds are the sides of the B and the D and the E is the center of the bed. This is known as Onomableva. There are many words like bed, but I’ll leave that to you all to discover.

  32. Janet Austin May 16, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I most definitely hate the word “yolo,” I mean what the heck is the purpose of that word? No one really cares what you do to “only live once.”

    My favorite phrase is an Italian phrase, “ama, ridi, sogna, e poi vai a dormire.” which means love, laugh, dream and then go to sleep. I love this because this is basically what humans do and it is so straightforward (not to be cheesy).

  33. Darren Daughtry Jr. May 16, 2013 at 10:38 am

    “omnipotent” – something that has a tremendous amount of power.
    I just like the way it sounds.

  34. Liam Lonegan May 16, 2013 at 10:41 am

    “Productive” really rings well to me. I’m not sure why.

  35. Georgia West May 16, 2013 at 11:48 am

    One of my favorite words is “monotonous” (Dull, tedious, and repetitious; lacking in variety and interest), largely because the sound of it mirrors the definition. Because the “ah” sound is repeated four times, it is easy to remember that it means repetitive and boring.

  36. Colin Cavanagh May 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I like the term “tongue-in-cheek,” used to describe a situation where a person is not being serious or is joking. I like the phrase because I feel it sort of describes how a person who is joking looks while they are joking, as they are biting their tongue or holding it in to try to prevent themselves from laughing.

  37. Nick Santamaria May 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    One of my favorite words would have to be Hiatus meaning “1.)
    a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc. 2.)
    a missing part; gap or lacuna.” I just love the way it sounds and its fun to say. Interestingly enough when I found the word “lacuna” in the definition of hiatus I actually came to like it too. It means a blank space or a missing part.

  38. Autumn Martin May 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Alexithymia; (ah-lek-sah-THI-mee-ah) — inability to describe emotions in a verbal manner.

    I came across this word one day while having difficulty describing my how I was feeling. In the desperation to find an explanation to my troubles, I searched and found this word. As a result, it became one of my favorites.

  39. Gabriella Maresca May 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Flamboyant – 1) Tending to attract attention due to being showy, strikingly bold or brilliant
    2) Ornate, dashing, colorful
    Although this word has received many negative connotations lately; due to the contexts its used in, I happen to love this word. The way it sounds when it’s pronounced makes me think of different images built into one word. When I hear it, I think of something floating or something colorful and vibrant like a flamingo. The different sounds represent different images.

  40. Kristen Safford May 21, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Serene – Calm, peaceful, and untroubled; tranquil
    I like this word because I feel that the word embodies it’s meaning. Just saying it can make me feel more calm and relaxed.

  41. Joey Blasco May 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    One of my favorite words would be “mindful” (attentive, aware, or careful).

    I personally like this word as I prefer to be aware and attentive of situations.

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