When it comes to words, choose wisely

I’ve always loved the word “mellifluous.” It’s a lovely example of onomatopoeia—words that suggest or imitate the thing they are describing.  On the other hand, I physically itch when someone says “chafe.” It’s far more irritating than, say, “irritating.”

Since our goal is to influence our readers, corporate writers need to be especially sensitive to word choice. I recently saw a job search letter in which the applicant described her work as “superior.” The word gave me a mental image of the woman looking down her nose at her colleagues. The same applicant wrote that she had a “chronic” interest in magazine writing. She would have been better off with “continuing” (although the urge to write does sometimes feel like a disease).

3 Replies to “When it comes to words, choose wisely”

  1. Is “mellifluous” an example of onomatopoeia? I thought it meant “flows like honey”, from Latin roots. I guess it depends on your definition of “sounds like”. “Mellifluous” is a very mellifluous-sounding word, as “harsh” is a harsh-sounding word, but “mellifluous” sounds nothing like the sound of flowing honey, at least to my admittedly slightly deaf ear.

    Instead, it strikes me that things which sound mellifluous flow like the sight of flowing honey, which strikes me as an example of synaesthesia.

  2. Mellifluous means “pleasant-sounding” — the more specific honey reference faded with the Latin. It’s subjective, of course, but I think it’s a pleasant-sounding word. Less obvious example of onomatopoeia than, say, “oink,” but I would argue for it!

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