THE WORD FOR WORD IS WORD
12 fun language paradoxes and words that describe themselves
Published on November 13, 2023
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Autological words? Language paradoxes? Join us in this article to explore the fun consequences of self-referential language.
Autological words or homological words are words that happen to express a property that they themselves possess. Like ‘noun’ also is a noun, or ‘English’ is actually English, these examples of recursive meaning within a word can be quite fun to think about.
The opposite of an autological word would be a heterological word, meaning one that doesn’t apply to itself. For example, the word ‘long’ isn’t a long word itself, and ‘monosyllabic’ has more than one syllable.
A paradox arises when one tries to answer the question: "Is ‘heterological’ a heterological word itself? Before reading further, try to make the math in your head, and you will soon find that giving a straight answer is almost impossible without modifying the original definitions of ‘heterological’ and ‘autological’.
But before this starts giving you a headache, we are not here to rummage into borderline mathematical problems within the logical structure of modern English, so don’t worry! Autological words can be a lot of fun on their own, even without pesky paradoxes popping up. Here are some examples.
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This is a real word present in the English dictionary, in case you are wondering. Humorously popularized by The Simpsons, embiggened is quite a fun example, since it is a sort of ungainly enlargement of itself.
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This could very much depend on context, but ‘interesting’ derives from the Anglo-Norman word ‘interesse’, and a blend of an older Latin word that referred to something important and an Old French expression relating to damage or loss. So, interesting is a somewhat interesting word by itself, at least if you like etymologies. Arguably, one could also say that it is a heterological word, since ‘interesting’ is the go-to word for most people when they don’t really have anything interesting to say about something.
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Not for you maybe, but ‘pronounceable’ is a difficult word to pronounce for many people, particularly for people who aren’t native speakers of English.
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Ever heard of this one before? Don’t worry, me neither. Lexiphanic means something - or someone - that uses pretentious or bombastic language.
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In this list! Ha!
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Could we give ‘unhyphenated’ a hyphen just for the sake of ruining this self-descriptive madness? Maybe. But it wouldn’t make too much sense. ‘Hyphenated’, on the other hand, is heterological, as it fails to describe itself.
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I love this one. If you don’t get it, count the syllables! ‘Multisyllabic’ is also a related autological word.
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A long, unnecessary word that literally means ‘a long word’. It also derives from the Latin root ‘sēsquipedālis’, which means ‘a foot and a half long’.
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Lots of vowels in this one, so… it passes the autological test.
Who even conceived this word? Just like the literary monster, this word is exactly what it means, a combination of two other words, or a portmanteau (that just happens to be autological too!).
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In the context of this list. Don’t worry, we are almost at the end.
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Funnily enough, this word also happens to be a buzzword. It may be even more popular than the actual buzzwords it refers to.
If you loved these autological words, check out our other articles! At Dictionary Scoop we explore all language-related topics and trivia, from words with strange properties like the ones in this list to untranslatable ones, or the history and etymology behind many English words.