Monday, January 8, 2018
This may sound goofy, but I'm in love with the "g" sound that starts words such as "good," "gob" and "gusto." It's known as a "hard g."
It's a powerful sound, and it adds a punch to nearly every word where it lives. I'm going to go ahead and play favorites: I prefer it to the "soft g" sound. "Gene," "generic" and "gerbil" just aren't as appealing to my ear.
A "gash" sounds more dramatic than a deep cut.
"Gusto" shows vigor and enthusiasm. Naturally, "lethargy" has the soft g.
A Soviet labor camp is terrifying by definition, but calling it "the gulag" -- with the hard g twice -- gives one the shivers.
A "geyser" sounds more powerful than a hot spring or waterspout. Geysers gush.
"Gargoyles" are those funny-looking faces and beasts on the tops of beautiful old buildings such as the cathedral at Notre-Dame in Paris. They were put there to act as spouts to direct rainwater from the outside walls, which is why the word comes from the Old French word for "waterspout" or "throat." The origins of "gargle" are similar.
A gabardine suit just seems cooler than a wool suit, although I can't say I would know gabardine if I saw it.
Who lives in big portions of the supernatural world? Ghosts. Goblins. Ghouls.
A few words describing distinctive sounds use the hard g. Clang, ding-dong, glug, jingle-jangle-jingle. I have been known to giggle.
"August," with the accent on the second syllable, means "dignified."
Having "gobs of time" is a wonderful thing. A "gob" is also a decent amount of something. You might put a gob of whipped cream on your apple pie. The word's roots are from the Old French word for "mouthful."
At the end of films, I used to like to see who the "best boy" was. Then I learned that the best boy is the assistant to the gaffer, who does the lighting on the film set. Now I look for the gaffer. It's believed to be an alteration of "grandfather" or "godfather."
Not all hard-g words are complimentary, but they get the job done:
"Thug" comes to us from the Indian word for "thief."
"Gauche," is French for "left." It also means "lacking grace," meandering its way from the French word for "awkward. That, in turn, comes from a Germanic term meaning "to walk clumsily."
"Rigmarole," which is also spelled "rigamarole," means the many ridiculous steps one must go through to do something. If you have ever been exposed to bureaucracy, you know this kind of procedure. Rigmarole also means nonsensical talk. It comes from an obsolete phrase, "ragman roll," which is a catalog or list.
"Ragamuffin" was a family name in the 14th century. These days, I rarely hear its modern meaning -- a ragged, shabbily dressed child -- which is good. But I can recall my mother calling me a ragamuffin once or twice. I healed.
The roots of the word are from an Old French demon in a play.
"Gobbledygook" means unclear language. It comes from the sound a turkey makes.
A "gewgaw" is a silly word for a bauble. It came from a Middle English word, "giuegaue," which is far too hard to spell.
Good golly, enough with the hard g.
A couple of readers asked me to mention words that get confused for one reason or another.
• Physical and fiscal
We hear the word "fiscal" during any budgeting time. Fiscal is an adjective for things having to do with money. It comes from the Latin word "fiscus," which is a basket or treasury.
"Physical" has to do with the body, rather than the mind.
Some people, when they're talking about fiscal matter, mistakenly say "physical." The lesson here? When you're formulating a budget, do your best to use your mind, not your body.
• Awe and aw
"Awe" is the feeling you get when something amazes you or fills you with wonder. A baker might be in awe of the chocolate souffle that did not sink into a pancake-like pile.
"Aw" is something you say ...
• When something is annoying, "Aw, I did my chores last week!"
• When you see an adorable child, "Aw, he has his daddy's eyes." I often extend this with extra letters: "Awwwwww."
• When you're expressing sympathy, "Aw, I'm sure this pancake-like pile tastes just fine."
Sources: American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, www.etymonline.com, Oxford Dictionaries
Reach Bernadette at
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