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Featured Image: Goya La Maja Desnuda 1797-1800, Oil on Canvas, 97 x 190 cm, Prado, Madrid
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 December 2019
Sensual Words in English
A Thought Experiment
The idea came on me suddenly. I thought of words as visual entities and wondered what a beautiful word would look like. From that it was a small leap to imagine sensual words.
A list came to mind and for some reason the first three were words beginning with ‘l’. In a couple of minutes I had a list of eight ‘l’ words, one of which I wasn’t sure about:
I thought I was being objective. But, then I wondered whether I was merely being subjective. I needed to treat the subject more seriously somehow. I came up with an experiment. But I would restrict my investigations to ‘l’ words only. Else, things might quickly spiral out of control.
Sensual and Sensuous
Sensual and sensuous are two words that in modern English have converged. I was interested in sensual words and not sensuous ones, but I felt a need to clarify.
John Milton (1608-1674) was an English poet and intellectual. Milton created more new words than Shakespeare or anyone, with Geoffrey Chaucer, Ben Jonson, Jon Donne and Sir Thomas Moore up there as well.
Milton is thought to have invented sensuous in 1641 to avoid the sexual overtones of sensual. Sensuous is the more neutral term meaning: relating to the senses as opposed to the intellect. Sensual relates to the gratification of the senses, especially sexually. Sensuous in Milton’s sense is becoming rare in modern English.
Is Objectivity Possible?
Another class of words in English is onomatopoeia (Greek of course), which means the formation of a word from the sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle).
Most people would agree on what were onomatopoeic words in English. However, when one compares onomatopoeia in different languages things get tricky. Even with meow, which is very similar across a number of languages, it is quite different in some. Other onomatopoeic words are simply not the same across languages, for example a dog’s bark. (You Tube examples are given below.)
But, at least in English onomatopoeia would seem objective. Although, perhaps not quite rigorous in a scientific sense.
I can, however, imagine a psychologist setting up an experiment with volunteers showing them long lists of words and asking them to press a button whenever a sensual word appeared. With a large enough sample one could expect to define sensual words within a confidence limit. For example, within a null hypothesis of .05 or a 95% confidence limit. I have no intention of being that rigorous.
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