This is clearly subjective, but some words really sound like the thing they describe (personal favorites: puffin; bulbous; fidgeting). Do you have an example of such a word (or, alternatively, of a word that sounds like the exact opposite of what it refers to)? What do you think creates this effect?
This is hard for me — I love words. I immediately thought of several, now I have to decide if I am prejudiced against some words because I know what they mean. One of the reasons I love reading books to kids is because I like the sounds of the words in well crafted stories.
The word gadfly sounds very much like the kind of person it is — someone who flits from place to place stopping briefly and moving quickly on.
Snippy used to describe a person who is pompous and short-tempered, sounds just right. I think the double “p” contributes to the staccato sound of the word. I also have this vision of scissors going snip, snip, snip: short quick noises like the voice of someone who’s irritating.
How about hullabaloo. It evokes a vision of something kind of out of control, but fun. The dictionary says it means “a clamorous noise or disturbance; uproar”. But perhaps this is where that meaning disconnect occurs. While it is associated with riots, I don’t find it menacing, but more a word about noisy confusion. Then again, I’m a child of the 60’s, and there was a show on in 1965-66 called Hullabaloo that was a big-budget, quality showcase for the leading pop acts of the day. Lots of singers, dancers, and fun. Perhaps it was misnamed? Strangely enough, the baloo part of the word is Scottish for lullaby. Hallo is an interjection, also apparently Scots, but not one I’ve ever heard.
Dastardly: now doesn’t that sound clandestine and scary. I picture a sneaky man in a dark raincoat, with a hat pulled low over his brow, about to commit some dastardly deed; an innocent maiden may be involved.
Pestilence makes my skin creep; it’s just such a yukky word. It’s probably the pest part of the words that immediately puts me off. Why does it make me think of things like Biblical scourges of boils, hordes of locusts? or perhaps the Black Death creeping like fog over the damp cobbled streets in medieval times.
When I read the post topic, and was trying to think of strange words flibbertigibbet popped into my head — and it hasn’t done that for a long time. I think its a fine word to describe a flighty, air-headed person. I know some of those.
I’ll close with repugnant. Great word. Makes me think of something smelly — perhaps the pug makes me think of a squashed nose. It does often refer to something with a bad odor, but lots of things that are distasteful, objectionable, or offensive can be repugnant, too.