Some words have an ineffable quality to them, a certain beauty that, through the mere connection of their respective syllables, evokes a world of associations. To me diaphanous conjures up a fairy-tale kingdom; lugubrious something pitifully comical; gossamer could be a spell Harry Potter casts to vanquish the vile Voldemort. Indeed all the words below have tickled me over the years and so have made my Favorite Words list.
Spiders are not popular with most. Their webs, though, aren’t quite as icky (unless you are some hapless bug.) It is from a spider’s web that we get one of English’s most beautiful and magical sounding words: gossamer.
Gossamer does not mean of or relating to a spider web (as that would make for an odd GRE Text Completion). Though inspired by arachnid silk, gossamer more broadly means light, delicate, insubstantial (and is usually used in a more poetic sense).
Her dreams were mere gossamer: upon waking they vanished into the mind’s recesses, perchance to be plucked anew come the waning of the light.
Interestingly, gossamer and diaphanous are very similar words. Diaphanous, too, can mean light and insubstantial. Typically diaphanous means translucent; able to be seen through. A fly’s wings are diaphanous, as are certain fabrics.
Oh woe on the poor soul who is called a troglodyte. Yes, even if he has never heard the word, he will know he is not being complimented. Nevertheless, the insult is not quite as damning as the sound of the word would lead you to believe. A ‘troglodyte’ is a cave dweller. While such a word would be limited utility (beyond an insult), troglodyte has taken on two definitions. It can describe anyone who is out of touch with the times, or one who wants to be left alone.
Oh lugubrious, how aptly your sound reflects your meaning. Just by pronouncing the lu- followed by the ‘gu’ I cannot help but feel a sadness wash over me, a sadness that is comical to the observer (much like when a six-month old can’t find her pacifier, she let’s a ‘lu’ and a ‘gu’ (the ‘brious’ will have to wait a few years).
So lugubrious describes a mournfulness, one that is overdone and theatrical, and yes, slightly comical.
This is perhaps one of the ugliest words in the English language. Even pronouncing the word silently, I have a nauseous feeling well up in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps it is the word’s phonetic proximity to ‘puke.’ Or maybe it is those first two syllables, which sound like the grinding of teeth, or nails on a chalkboard (or maybe they are just an onomatopoeia for puke).
So why, you implore, could I possibly like this word? Well, its definition is so ironic, I always get a chuckle out of it. Pulchritude is beauty, and beauty pulchritude (to paraphrase Keats). That’s right, if you see a beautiful person, say Angelina Jolie, you can call her pulchritudinous (though I don’t know if she’d be particularly flattered).