The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

The Top 10: Words That Describe Themselves

The A to Z of autological words, from awkward to zesty

John Rentoul
Saturday 27 August 2016 11:39
Comments
Languid: Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866-73
Languid: Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866-73

I did Words That Are the Opposite of Their Meaning (such as monosyllabic, misspelled) a while ago, but this is slightly different. It started with Moose Allain, who commented: “‏When you write the word awkward you realise it suits its meaning.” Alex ‏asked which one: the adjective, uncomfortable, out of place; or the noun, a secure wing in Tolkien’s little discussed Middle-earth health service institutions?

1. Languid. Thanks to Lisa Markwell, for whom I shall peel a grape.

2. Spindly. Dylan Beattie asked if I ever think that plinth is a really plinthy sort of word. No, but I do think spindly, which he also nominated, is spindly.

3. Curt.

4. Intertwined. Suggested by Kirsty Major. It makes perfect sense to me. I also like meander.

5. Grandiloquent. Humbly put forward for the honour of inclusion in this compendium by Peter Russell.

6. Turgid. Nominated by Anthony Ingleton, who also suggested viscous.

7. Pentasyllabic. Neat, by Russell Smith.

8. Autological. Haggard Hawks Words reminds us that this means “words that describe themselves”.

9. ‏bed. Made by Mike Brown.

10. Cantankerous, sly, smooth, zesty. I’ll take them all, from Tom Freeman.

There is always one, and this week it is Martin Rosenbaum, who offers “non-self-descriptive”: “if it does describe itself, it doesn’t; but if it doesn’t, then it does...”

Finally, an honourable mention for Simon, who nominated abbrev, even though its not a real word.

Next week: Most Obscure Titles of Politicians’ Memoirs, such as Porridge and Passion by Jonathan Aitken

Coming soon: Invented Languages, such as Elvish, Klingon and Esperanto

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in