17 Words that Describe Themselves

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Most words have a rather abstract connection to the things they describe. The word “yellow” is not actually yellow. The word “square” is not a square. Nor do we expect them to be. That’s the way of the world and the arbitrary nature of language. But some words do embody the properties they denote. We call them autological words, and they are a self-centered, self-referential bunch. Here are 17 of them.

1. Word

Yup, that’s what it is.

2. English

Well, it ain’t French.

3. Erudite

It is a very scholarly word, this word that means scholarly.

4. Noun

Verb, adjective, and adverb are nouns too.

5. Buzzword

Been hearing this everywhere.

6. Cutesy

Barfsy.

7. Polysyllabic

Lots of syllables in this one.

8. Sesquipedalian

A term for “long word” from the Latin for “a foot and a half long.”

9. Unhyphenated

And should remain so.

10. Magniloquent

Grandiose and pompous indeed.

11. Recherché

Rarified? Affected? Pretentious? Mais, bien sûr, my dear.

12. Proparoxytone

Meaning stressed on the antepenultimate, or third-to-last syllable. Pronounced pro-par-OX-y-tone

13. Hellenic

Of Greek origin. From ancient Greek Ἑλληνικός (ellhnikos).

14. Obfuscatory

Do you want to be straightforward and easy to understand? Then don’t use this obfuscatory word.

15. Suffixed

Now that you mention it, “prefix” works too.

16. Monepic

What’s that word to describe a one-word sentence?
Monepic.
Oh, that’s right. Thanks!

17. Heterological

The opposite of autological is heterological. A heterological word, like yellow or square, does not describe itself. So does “heterological” describe itself? If yes, then by definition it’s autological, so then it doesn’t describe itself. But if no, then “heterological” is heterological, therefore it actually does describe itself, which means it’s autological … AM I BLOWING YOUR MIND? Welcome to the Grelling-Nelson Paradox.

For more autological words see the list maintained by Henry Segerman.

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September 27, 2013 - 2:00pm
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