ONOMATOPOEIA--THE UGLY AND THE AWFUL
Where do words come from? No, no, not from your mouth, you ninny; I mean, how are words made up in the first place? It is generally thought that the first words were sounds that suggested their meaning, a process we call "onomatopoeia". Onomatopoeia is itself a made-up word from Latin and Greek, "onomato" meaning "name" as in nomenclature (our word "name " comes directly from "nomen" -- see how they sound alike?) and "poeia" meaning "to make" with a suggestion of making music as in a rhymed poem. The first poems were sung to the music of a lyre, like a guitar. No, not like rap music -- rap has no melody. Well, I don't want to argue with you -- let's just say that I've never managed to hear any melody in rap, even if you have.
Ninny? Well, ninny seems to be a shortening of "an innocent" , meaning you're here to learn something and not to wise off. Or "nincompoop", itself a shortening of "non compos mentis" meaning, with a bit of license, " not able to compose mentally". Can we get back to onomatopoeia now?
What? "Ninny" sounds like baby talk? Well, yes, it does, actually, and that's a good example of onomatopoeia -- words that sound like what they mean. And a ninny is a baby!
Can you think of any other words that sound like what they mean? Jerk? Do you really think jerk sound like a man who, well, is a sort of idiot? Well, maybe -- what, fool? No, no, I don't think "fool" sounds like -- what's that? Watch your language, young man!
The usual examples of onomatopoeia are words like gargle, choke, buzz, wham, sneeze, hiccup, whiz, bong, boom. And then there are words that contain onomatopoia in them, like whistle, scissor, and the two words I'd like to discuss today (Oh, you're all going to like this!), "ugly" and "awful". Ha ha, yes, "ugly" and "awful". Ha ha.
Now, where do you think "ugly" came from? Yes? What? My house, every morning? All right, all right, I admit that's fairly amusing, but let's be serious. No one? Well, how about the first syllable, "ug"? Yes, good, it sound like gagging, very good, and is even a word of sorts--"ugh" with a "h" -- and I've seen some of you put your finger in your open mouth, as though you were gagging, as a sort of joke, right? Well, that's "ugh" too, and means something that is offensive -- well, you don't all have to do it right now!
"Ugh" is a very old word, and might be part of most languages -- we get it from the Vikings, and first used it in English as "ugh-some" -- isn't that splendid? "Ug-ly" means the same thing, "Ly" means "like" -- "ugh-like", ha ha. In Viking, the word is "uggligr" -- doesn't that sound ugly? So that if a person appears to us as the opposite of beautiful, as horrid-looking, we say they are "ugh-like" -- isn't that a splendid word, when you define it and see how it began? I mean, what you are saying is that these horrid people make you gag! Ha ha. Now stop that -- get your fingers out of your mouths! The word "ugh-like" is not itself ugly -- there is nothing to gag at here.
Well, let's go on to "awful" -- which is fascinating because it probably originally came from "ahhhh!" which means, of course, "Wow look at that!" ha ha. And so we have the word "awestruck" and the one I've heard you use, "awesome". But it also means "terrible" -- "awful" -- from the Viking "agi" to fear and the Old English "egefull" or dreadful, with a hint of wide-eyed fear. So, strange to say, you can call something "awe-full" and mean it is distasteful, or "awe-some" and mean it's wonderful. Such as the study of words -- at first you might think it's awful, until you get into it, and then you see that it's awesome! Right? Right? Well, you bunch of ninnies, then I can only say that your language skills are awful and -- oh, get your fingers out of your mouths!
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