Someone I know has a nice favourite word: ‘lugubrious.’ Not a word you can use very often. ‘Lugubrious’ means ‘gloomy’, or ‘mournful’. So a very sad song could be described as ‘lugubrious.’ But my friend likes the word not for the meaning, but the sound of it. She just likes saying the word out loud: ‘lu-gu-brious.’

That’s a very popular way to pick your favourite word—by the sound of it. But there are other ways to pick a favourite word too. For instance, I like the word ‘ubiquitous’ because it defines an important and unusual concept: someone who is ‘ubiquitous’ is capable of being present in more than one place at the same time, or someone who is present everywhere. Objects like advertisements or posters can be described as ‘ubiquitous’ if you see them all around, wherever you go.I also have a whole set of favourite words based on the image they invoke in my mind. The word ‘wool-gathering,’ which means ‘wasting time through idle day dreaming’, invokes an interesting image. Sheep out for grazing scrape through bushes, and often leave fragments of wool in the bushes. Collecting these fragments serves no purpose, and can be a great waste of time. So if you see people just sitting around lost in thoughts, not doing anything purposeful, you can say they are wool-gathering. Knowing lots of words is important—strictly speaking, the more words you know the better. However, just as we know some people are better than others, we also tend to know some words better than others. When you like and dislike words, you have taken the time to think about your communication needs, and have considered what words allow you to be most expressive, and what words you enjoy using most. In our daily communication needs, this might not be too noticeable, but when you need to carefully make a presentation, or put together a detailed report, picking one word over another is a decision you will constantly make. You may not use any of your favourite words in a presentation, but if you have taken the trouble to choose your favourites, you are equipped to evaluate words based on how easy they are for the reader to understand, what image they invoke, exactly what meanings they convey, and so on.And the favourite words don’t even have to be English. It’s the approach to language use that counts, not which specific language. One of my most favourite expressions, is the Telugu phrase ‘pichuka snanam.’ It describes a quick bath, using very little water. It’s what you might do if you are in a hurry, or something a little boy would do to claim that he’s taken his bath, when he has in fact avoided it. The image it invokes—of a crow gingerly dipping its beak and lightly fluttering its wings over the water—is what makes the expression so much fun.

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NILESH JAHAGIRDAR