And yes, I chose ‘dozen’ deliberately. It sounds so much nicer than ‘twelve’ (like ‘belly’ sounds much better than harsh ‘stomach’). In fact I decided on twelve favo(u)rite words simply so that I could use ‘dozen.’ I’ve also used other words, tangentially, but that was just to show off.
The English language, in all its forms, is a wondrous thing; full of variety, richness, expressiveness and nuance. I love it. So here are a dozen of my favourites, although two are made up, one is slang and two aren’t even English.
Bejasus An Irish-English word (as opposed to Gaelic) used compulsorily in speech, like ‘top o’ the morning,’ when depicting Irish stereotypes, especially in films of the 1950s. It often means ‘by Jesus’ but can be rude too, so I won’t go into that. Also, of course, begorra(h), which similarly is ‘by God.’
Bosky This word, defined as ‘covered by trees or bushes; wooded,’ in both British and American English, is far more descriptive somehow than ‘wooded.’ It’s usually used to suggest thickly, luxuriantly wooded, and is a great adjective.
Cariad A Welsh word that sounds beautiful, even if you don’t know what it means, which is ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart.’ It has a lovely lyricism and glides off the tongue like melted honey. (Similarly poetical is Ceredigion, the county in west Wales. It sounds much nicer than the old Anglicised name, Cardiganshire.)
Discombobulate The favourite word of renowned English satirist Ian Hislop, although it’s mostly used in America. It means ‘disconcert or confuse’ and is usually used humorously. Although I heard a British politician using it the other day wearing a perfectly straight face.
Erstwhile I love slightly archaic-sounding words like this one, which is much better than the mundane ‘formerly.’ Other notable similar examples are ‘heretofore’ (meaning almost the same: ‘before now’) and ‘albeit’ (‘though’).
Frumious All right; this isn’t a proper word but a nonsense one, invented by Lewis Carroll for his poem Jabberwocky in Alice Through The Looking Glass. It must mean something decidedly horrible, judging by its context:
‘Beware the Jabberwock my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
Knicker(s) I love this quintessentially (that’s another good word) English expression. With its faintly comical and naughty undertones, it sounds so much better than ‘pantie(s).’ Its forerunners, bloomers and drawers, are good too, evoking images such as saucy Can-Can dancers (but then in their case, I suppose, you’d say culotte bouffant). But I digress.
Now at this point I was going to nominate
But strictly speaking, this famous Welsh village’s name isn’t a single word but a string of them; it’s more a sentence really. The village’s actual name is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, ending there, although it’s locally known as LlanfairPG, because even the proper name is a bit of a mouthful. The rest, enlarging it to fifty-eight letters, was added by an enterprising nineteenth century local innkeeper with an eye to the emerging tourist trade. It translates as ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantisilio [the church of St. Tysilio] of the red cave.’
But I’m off on a tangent again. My next word in fact is:
Llareggub Which isn’t a correct one either. It looks authentic to a non-Welsh speaker, but it’s a joke played by Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood. For its meaning, read it backwards.
Ornery I love this totally American word. To those not in the know, it means ‘bad tempered; difficult to deal with.’ It always reminds me of cowboy films devoured hungrily as a child back in the 50s, wherein (another good word) there was always some bristly-chinned old chap thus described. Another good word from the same source is critter (creature). Example: ‘Let’s get them dang critters branded, Clint.’ (Or words to that effect).
Again, I was tempted to show off and cite the longest, albeit rather artificial, word in the dictionary, pneumonoultramiscroscopicsilicovulcanoconiosis. It means, apparently, a lung disease caused by inhaling sand dust and very fine ash. (What, both together? Seems unlikely to me.) With forty-five letters, it makes antidisestablishmentarianism seem positively concise.
But no; instead I nominate the really sweet
Puffling That’s a baby puffin. Puffin tinies, like most birds (apart from penguins), probably aren’t as cute as their name implies, because the birds don’t acquire their wonderful, flamboyantly ridiculous beaks until sexually mature, and sport them only during the mating season, after which they’re shed. A case of having them only to pull the birds, I suppose.
Popinjay I’m indebted to author Andy Richie for putting me on to this one, which I’ve purloined shamelessly after seeing it in a piece he wrote. It means ‘a vain and conceited person, especially one who dresses or behaves extravagantly.’ A fop, or dandy, like Beau Brummel. It’s a brilliant word, anyway.
Wee No, I don’t mean the English word that refers to waste bodily fluid, but the Scots usage. I love the way Scottish people talk about a ‘wee bairn,’ or ‘wee dram,’ or indeed a wee anything. Especially when big brawny, hairy, kilted caber-tossing blokes say it.
As I say, I just love words!
And returning to Cariad, it’s featured quite a lot in my novel The One of Us, on sale in a virtual bookshop near you and also on Amazon as a large-format paperback. One of the protagonists, Tomos, is adopted into a Welsh-speaking family. Obviously, I couldn’t write the dialogue in Welsh without severely limiting my audience, but I sprinkled it with a few (helpfully translated) Welsh words to give a slight sense of vernacular speech.
Here is the book description:
Jim and Maureen Harrison ache to have a child. Glyn and Sioned Rees want a brother or sister for their daughter Lowri. But for both couples, further pregnancy is impossible. So what to do?
The answers to both their dreams are sucking their thumbs in the Strawberry Field children’s home in Liverpool: foundlings, twin baby boys. Glyn and Sioned adopt one, whom they bring up in Wales. Jim and Maureen adopt the other, rearing him in north Yorkshire.
And so the boys are brought up in very different social and family environments, developing markedly different personalities and aspirations. But are they entirely different? After all, they are monozygotic: identical. Does their genetic commonality confer similar character traits deep down? John Needham’s third novel explores nature/nurture theory, weaving it into an absorbing, at times exquisitely moving tale of brothers.
Readers of his previous book, Forebears, will be re-acquainted with warm-hearted, bluff, call-a-spade-a-bloody-shovel Yorkshire lass Helen, now taking a larger role, telling her story from an earlier time.
This gentle, compelling, sometimes poignant novel tells the boys’ stories in parallel as they grow to manhood, converging to a dramatic, heart-wrenching reunion that will wring your emotions dry.
Pictures attributions, with thanks to Wikipedia.
“Puffin Latrabjarg Iceland” by Boaworm – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Puffin_Latrabjarg_Iceland.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Puffin_Latrabjarg_Iceland.jpg
“Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-railway-station-sign-2011-09-21-GR2 1837a” by G1MFG at en.wikipedia – Own work (Original text: I (G1MFG (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.)Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by User:ТимофейЛееСуда using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-railway-station-sign-2011-09-21-GR2_1837a.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-railway-station-sign-2011-09-21-GR2_1837a.JPG