This week the gang at the Weekly Standard deserves kudos for running a fine and wry piece on language. For those who ponder the aesthetics of pronunciation and the mysteries of provenance (or--cough--just talk too much) such pieces are an absolute treat:
Thwart. Yes, thwart is a good word. Thwarted. Athwart. A kind of satisfaction lives in such words--a unity, a completion. Teach them to a child, and you'll see what I mean: skirt, scalp, drab, buckle, sneaker, twist, jumble. Squeamish, for that matter. They taste good in the mouth, and they seem to resound with their own verbal truthfulness.
More like proper nouns than mere words, they match the objects they describe. Pickle, gloomy, portly, curmudgeon--sounds that loop back on themselves to close the circle of meaning. They're perfect, in their way. They're what all language wants to be when it grows up.
Joseph Bottum frets aloud about just what to call these self-fulfilling verbal prophesies. He then settles on the deeply literal and archaic “agenbite”—a bastardization of “remorse,” form the latinate “remordere,” or, “bite again.” Thank you, Old English! He finds that
reverberation reverberates, and jingle jingles. A friend insists that machination is a word that tells you all about its Machiavellian self, and surely sporadic is a clean agenbite, with something patchy and intermittent in the taste as you say it.
I’ve long been a fan of onomatopoeia, not least international versions. (In France, a pig goes “groin groin,” and a slamming door goes “vlan!”) But I’ll disagree that these pearls of diction need some kind of automation; hearing form meet function on one’s tongue is thralling enough.