Words! Wonderful Words!

On Twitter, I follow a man called Cian McCarthy (handle: @arealmofwonder) who, every day, posts four different and exotic words. I was going to say from the English language but many come from Welsh, Scottish, Irish (Celtic) and various dialects from around the UK, as well as further afield in other English-speaking countries. These, in turn, sometimes have their origins in the languages of other countries – often those in Scandinavia – as they have influenced how our language has grown and developed. Here’s an example from yesterday’s choices:

Each day, Cian asks his followers to vote for their favourite of the four words. Sometimes this is easy – a word leaps out at you because of its sound and/or its meaning. Sometimes it’s harder because all the words are fabulous.

This got me thinking. Children love words and word-play, as seen in their eagerness to listen to and write poetry, especially nonsense poetry, where the often onomatopoeic words add to the fun. Roald Dahl is often very popular for his inventiveness with words, especially in the much-loved The BFG. Snozzcumber, anyone?

I decided to do a display on the wall outside the Library of a selection of words from Cian McCarthy’s Twitter account, and I asked children to write their favourite on a post-it note and stick it on the wall.

Within a couple of days, the wall space was full of post-its – from staff as well as children! Some had chosen from the selection on the board while others had written their own favourite word. I hadn’t anticipated that but was pleasantly surprised because it added another element to the activity; people were sharing which words had made an impression on them.

Of the original words, it seems that ‘Polly Dishwasher’ (a Sussex term for a pied wagtail) was popular as was ‘Snerdle’ which means ‘to wrap up cosily in bed’. I can identify with that one! I had thought that, perhaps, ‘Roarie-Bummlers’ might score higher (from the Scottish, meaning noisy storm clouds that move quickly across the sky) but I was wrong. I rather liked ‘Growlery’, which was invented by Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House and means a place to go to when you’re feeling grumpy. I can imagine growling in a Growlery, can’t you? And, of course, since I work in a Lectory, that was another one high on my list.

One child in Year 5 put one of her favourite words into a sentence, which impressed me. She wrote: “Dumfungled definitely at swimming!” (‘Dumfungled’ means ‘to be worn out’ and appears to come from Scottish.) And swimming would Dumfungle you!

Some of the added words were fascinating, too. A few children had written ‘discombobulated’ and ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ (and spelled them correctly!) on the post-its, saying they liked these words because they were so long. I’ve worked in other schools where these words have popped up – children are proud when they can remember how to say and spell such challenging words! I also had some interesting new ones from staff and children including:

Dysdiadochokinesia from two girls in Year 6: means ‘to be unable to perform rapid, alternating muscle movements (they spelled this correctly and I struggle every time to write it!)

Flighting from a girl in Year 6: this is Norse for a formal argument of insults.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from another girl in Year 6: famous, of course, from the song by that name in Mary Poppins. It means what the first part of the word says: super, but ‘if you say it loud enough, you always sound precocious! I remember this was one of my favourite words when young, and I practicsed over and over so I could say it backwards (a challenge raised in the song!).

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia from a couple of girls in Year 6 (they must have been searching for the longest words in the English language as this one ranks near the top). No, this is not the fear of hippos as you would be forgiven for thinking, but the fear of … very long words! Though it is not officially recognised as a proper phobia.

Mendacious and exquisite were given by one teacher, who thinks that ‘exquisite’ sounds like a unicorn horn.

Cantakerous, precipitation and holidays were given by other teachers.

Not only are words in themselves fascinating but why people are attracted to certain words is something that really interests me. And there are plenty of us out there, too, if Cian’s Twitter account is anything to go by. Words appeal through their sounds and their meanings – sometimes a single word might sum up how we are feeling or elicit an emotion from us. They can also appear to our other senses through their onomatopoeic qualities: with ‘mudscutcheon’ I can imagine a person dragging themselves through the mud with absolute abandonment.

What I enjoyed about the ‘wall’ activity has been how interactive it has been. Children and staff members have said the same – that they have loved reading the words and contributing their own examples. Conversations start up between adults and children, and children from different year groups. This is the joy of language – not only do we communicate through it, but we can use these kinds of activities as conversation starters and find out something new about each other in the process. It’s not just about developing vocabulary but also developing the means by which we can have meaningful and enjoyable discussions with others.

All from githerments of words.

It’s almost leaves you speechless, doesn’t it? 😉

Why not share your favourite word in the Comments below?


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