Words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with. All of these participate in the aesthetic experience of the word and can affect communication. So why not taste them like a fine wine?
Word tasting notes are not simple accounts of facts; they deliberately go further in aestheticizing the verbal object, just as the object of wine tasting is not simply to evaluate and describe but to find as much as one can in the wine. So the various visual features and echoes noted in the word tasting notes may or may not have any effect on the day-to-day use of the word; the fact that similarity of sound does not always have much if any effect can be illustrated by how often a person will be surprised by the connection made by a pun.
Thus, I am not perpetuating the phoneasthetic fallacy; I do not believe that sounds have intrinsic aesthetic values – aesthetic value is not intrinsic in anything; it is always a function of the interaction between the stimulus and the perceiver – and I do not believe that sounds necessarily determine the meanings of words. Most of the time they don’t have an important influence, in fact (unless and until we let them), but we can see that in some words phonaesthetics clearly do have some influence on meaning and usage – notably words formed on the basis of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism, but also words that have established phonaesthemes in them, for instance the /gl/ and /sn/ onsets.
The point of word tasting, then, is to stimulate aesthetic appreciation of words, to help people have fun with them and look at them from various angles and in light of various aspects and influences, in search of both information and delight. If you taste a word, you will undoubtedly get different things from it than I do. But I certainly hope that what I get from it will stimulate to get more than you might have. And this is one place where one may flaunt vocabulary and toss around rare words and obscure references without shame or compunction.
In short, word tasting notes are unabashedly highbrow fun with words. The daily WTN email, which you can subscribe to at http://groups.google.ca/group/word-tasting-notes, is the Margaux of word-a-day emails.
The Word Tasting Note Index gives you access to all word tastings done to date.