A Word Taster’s Companion: Let’s get started

Starting today, I will be posting in installments, intermingled with my word tasting notes, a how-to guide for word tasting: A Word Taster’s Companion.

Let’s get started

Welcome to the world of word tasting.

Oh, you aren’t new to it, not really. It’s possible for a person who is a novice in wine tasting truly never to have tasted wine before, but we all use words, we all run them through our minds, nearly all of us form them with our mouths. We can’t not taste them, at least a little. We choose one word over another for reasons that go beyond the dictionary definitions. We have all looked on sentences where the wrong word was used. It sets the teeth on edge.

But our daily usage is so much guzzling compared with what we can truly get from words. Just as, when you actually set out to taste a wine, you discover things that simply wouldn’t have been there for you had you merely swigged it, so too in tasting words you will not only put your finger on the nuances that had passed so lightly across your tongue – you will create a world of delight that hadn’t existed before, just through your interaction with it. And you will become a much better user of words as well.

Let’s get going and shake the cobwebs out. You’ll be better at tasting words, and will get more enjoyment out of it, when you are an expert (i.e., when I’m finished with you), but this isn’t Zen archery or contract bridge: you don’t spend forever thinking and talking about it before doing it. But you already have at least a developed sense, to a greater or lesser degree conscious. So here we go.

Here are some uncommon words. You might not be familiar with all of them.

thixotropic

fleer

pinguid

mumpsimus

For each of these words, write down the first ten things you can think of. Try the sounds, the things they sound like, the way they feel in your mouth. What do they make you think of? If you want to look them up, do. If you don’t, don’t – though ultimately finding out the meaning of unfamiliar words will be an important part of a word tasting.

Now do the same with the following words, but go for 20 things:

morning

cake

shampoo

dog

hound

Include the words you tend to use them with (phrases, expressions, whatever other words they bring to mind), places they would be appropriate or inappropriate, and whatever else comes to your mind. Anything that you know about them or think about them or that they make you think of.

Congratulations. You have just attained the first degree of word tasting. You have planted the seeds; the rest will follow as roots and branches.

Next: What words are made of.

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15 responses to “A Word Taster’s Companion: Let’s get started

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