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Tuesday, 08 July 2014


How is it that some words look like their meaning? If you look at the word comfort, doesn’t it just look so comfortable? It looks like you could curl up in the ‘C’ or lie in between the folds of the ‘m’ and bounce onto the soft ‘o’, like flopping onto a white feather duvet. Is this because we know what the word means? Do we apply visualisations to the letters because of the meaning of the word? Or do letters have characteristics that compliment words? Cold, fall, lake, wallow, ill – there’s a characteristic L has that makes it seem endless when doubled up and lonely when featured once in a word. But maybe that’s because it looks like capital I, which is a lonely word – not just because it stands on its own as a word but because oneself as opposed to many is a lonely thought.

Soft, mellow, float, lovely, lounge, book – these words also comfort, is it because of the characteristic ‘o’ has? Or just because they are comforting words?

I started out this blog thinking I was going to write about winter comforts and the need for comfort when the weather is cold outside. Whether it be a fire, warm soup or a chunky jersey knitted by ouma, this need to stimulate comfort in the cold is probably a natural protective reaction to anything that makes us a little uncomfortable. But then I became so intrigued by the way the word comfort looked typed out on my screen, that it got me to thinking about the spelling of words, rather than the origin of them. Which to be honest is something that I always find myself wondering about.

When I was at Rhodes University, my friends and I often experienced days of word intrigue and oddity. For instance, what is a car? A CAR? I’m sure you’ve repeated a word in sequence on occasion, so much so that the oddity of its sound makes you laugh and wonder at the absurdity of language. Never mind the thing it describes – a moving rectangular object, usually directed by a person, hands fixed onto a round wheel and moving slightly to the left and right. Or a kettle? KETTLE. It boils away almost to eruption before coming to a complete halt. I like to imagine myself as a species from another planet looking down on earth and watching the humans running their daily lives. Such activity. Such effort. And all the little gadgets that assist them in their living. But maybe that’s a blog for another day.

(If you’re thinking that only pot heads and nerds are obsessed with the absurd nature of words and their unexpected hilarity, I hate to disappoint, but we were neither).

The etymology of words does describe where they originated from, but not whether the letters that make up the word were designed to evoke certain characteristics or not. Fudge. I just looked up from my screen to stare straight at a packet of the stuff. Why do some people use this as a ‘cute’ replacement expletive? The meaning of fudge has nothing to do with the profanity so surely it must be the characteristics of the letters ‘f’ and ‘u’. Maybe the physical effort of stirring ingredients to make fudge makes people want to curse and so the meaning of the expletive was transferred onto the fudge. Delectable fudge...

I hope this gets you thinking a bit about language. I continue to discover and explore the affect that the right words used at the right time can have on fellow English speakers. Communication is key – ever thought about why the word communication carries so many letters?