Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tripe My Guacamole, Baby or Hooked on Phonics

Yes, I was listening to Little Feat on the way home last night and the phrase "tripe my guacamole" stuck in my head. As "tripe" is a noun, the sentence is not syntactically a well formed sentence, forget the fact that the combination of words is not meaningful. Yet, it does seem to convey something.

It started me thinking about a talk a saw in grad school with a philosopher of language whose name I do not remember. But s/he was discussing the fact that words do have phonological meaning, that is, the sounds we use as verbal symbols for words do have psychological pull in terms of meaning. S/he used an example where we were going to replace the words "yes" and "no" with either "blip" or "bloop" and said that somehow it was obvious which of the two ought to represent the affirmative and which the negative.

But etymology is often filled with accidents, so there are some words that despite not being onomatopoetic in that they are not directly derived from a sound in the world do sound like they should and others that do not. "Perky," I've always thought is exactly the right word for perky. So, too, "lonely." "Pizazz," is good, but its converse "zzazip" seems to have it even more. "Sanguine," though seems phonologically inappropriate. It sounds depressing, not upbeat.

So, what other words sound like what they mean and which ones don't?