Sounds Right – Ooze; Glisten; Rump and the Bouba Kiki Experiment


Sounds Right – Ooze; Glisten; Rump and the Bouba Kiki Experiment

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?

I came across an interesting article about something called sound symbolism on the Visual Thesaurus site here.

It is a subjective approach to the symbolism of sound in speech, but still it is interesting.

“The evidence for sound symbolism consists of things like the fact that there are so many words in English that refer to light or shiny things that begin with the letters ‘gl’ :gleam, glisten, glow, and glitter are just a few of these. The reasoning goes that ‘gl’ must on some level mean ‘shiny’.”

“Another example is “ump” words, which all seem to refer to round or round protruding things: rump, mumps, lump, hump. It is often noted that these words “sound round,” but that is, of course, very subjective.”

How about the word “ooze”?

The nameless fluid oozed over the floorboards, thick, slow, somehow hypnotic.

or glisten?

Her eyes glistened with something akin to slyness, an unpleasant twinkle.


Or rump?

The Regional Manager, a malevolent and slimy predator, flicked her rump with the tips of his fingers as he sidled by.

Or how about the Bouba and Kiki effect? See New Scientist here

Booba-Kiki (1)

“Back to those shapes: If you called the rounded shape “Bouba” and the spiky shape “Kiki,” then you can count yourself among the vast majority. Ramachandran and Hubbard tested English, French and Tamil speakers and 95 to 98 percent had the same associations. The results of this study represent the first scientific retort to Saussure’s hypothesis of the arbitrary relationship between the signified and the signifier. (Here’s the whole study in Synaesthesia in pdf format – very interesting.) Info from Blog


Eye image from ACE Health and Beauty


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