What’s Your Favorite Word?

A couple of days ago, as thoughts were passing through my consciousness, it just popped up, “My favorite word is ‘friend.'”


You’ve got a …. making friends for the world to see … one is silver and the other gold

Huh. I wondered where the heck that thought came from, and the first thing that came to me was that every time I say that word, I feel warm inside. Just a little bit of peace falls across my soul when I think of “friend.”

Is it the meaning?

I considered first whether I like the word because friendship is important to me. Most of my life I’ve yearned for close friends. There have been many times when I didn’t have any, just acquaintances or people I talk to because we are in the same group or school. I function best with one or two good friends who I can tell anything to and not feel judged. I have that at the moment, so hooray! So, that’s one factor.

Is it the sound?

I’m sure you’ve read memes or essays about how the mere sounds of some words make people uncomfortable. I seem to hear a lot about “ointment” in my social circle (what do you hear?). The sounds of other words can please people. I like the sound of the word “leather” very much. I guess it’s because it doesn’t have any stops (p, t, d and the like), so it just flows. And the voiced “th” sound feels good on my lips.

Friend ends with a stop, but it has the same “eh” vowel as leather, and the “fr” flows nicely.

(You can be glad I didn’t delve into some linguistic analysis of the words. I’m trying to control myself and not get all technical, even though I used to be a real live linguistics major.)

Is it the pragmatics?

By this, I mean do I like “friends” because of what the use of the word can do to others. I think that has a lot to do with why I like it. I remember my older son had a second-grade teacher I really liked. She called all the students “friend,” even addressing the class as “friends” rather than “boys and girls.” I think that set the expectation among the class members that they should be kind to each other, because after all, they were friends.

The power of using a word to affect culture and social behavior is amazing to me. And I think that when you refer to people or groups as friends, it can help mitigate some of the antagonism people currently feel toward each other.

(On the other hand, I am aware that salespeople and other persuasive speakers can use terms like this to influence people in ways that aren’t so great, so I hereby acknowlege that you can do a LOT with any word. And that last clause constitutes a performative statement. Oops, linguistics again.)

Does it mess with my head?

Writing this, I have looked at the word “friend” repeatedly, in typing and in imagery. After a while the word started to “look funny” to me. This is a common experience, I guess, where all of a sudden a word you’ve spelled correctly your whole life suddenly looks “wrong.” I began to think that maybe it was spelled “freind” instead, especially when I looked at FRIEND in all caps.

This looks so wrong to me.

Because I know how to use Google, I looked up the phenomenon, and discovered there’s a word for that: wordnesia. This interesting article in from the Smithsonian explained that no one knows why it happens.

They did get a neuroscientist to posit a guess as to why we do this:

When you’re reading, what you’ve got is a very practiced part of the brain that responds automatically. I mean, when is the last time you looked at colonel and realized it was spelled funny? The automatic parts of reading take over. My guess, in the phenomenon you’re talking about, is that, very briefly, the automatic parts hit a speed bump and go, ‘that can’t be right.’ And those automatic tasks, when you disrupt them at all—when you think, ‘am I breathing on my backswing,’ or when you think, ‘should I push the clutch with my left foot’—anytime that you engage conscious monitoring of those parts that ought to be automatic, you get a hiccup.

Charles A. Weaver III quoted in When Even the Simplest Word Looks Weird And Wrong You Have Wordnesia

It’s just friendly

So, okay, then, “friend” is my favorite word, because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and has the power to do the same to others. That works.

What’s YOUR favorite word, and why? Does the first word that pops into your head surpise you, like it did me?

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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