Some words create warm and fuzzy feelings when we hear them: lullaby, chocolate, firelight. Other words send shivers down our spine: alligator, zombie, thunderstorm. But what is it about words that makes us have these unconscious reactions? Part of it is experience – anyone who has been startled by a snake will automatically think of that moment the next time they hear the word, and a cold winter snuggled under a warm blanket brings back memories whenever you read the word “comforter.”
Researchers recently found a possible link that explains trypophobia, or “fear of holes.” In a study done by Geoff Cole at the Centre for Brain Sciences at the University of Essex in England, images of things like a blue-ringed octopus or a lotus seed pod can set off fear reactions in people, and that this emotion may be connected to the fact that many poisonous plants and venomous animals have rings or other brightly-patterned coloring that would have warned off our earliest ancestors. In the depths of our brains, we still connect those patterns with danger, even when we’re looking at something as harmless as a piece of Emmentaler cheese.
Sometimes the same word can be used to mean something that’s both good and bad. For example, if you’re pervicacious, it means that you’re very stubborn. On the other hand, if you look at the word’s etymology, you’ll see that it comes from the Latin root vincere, which is the same root that gives us the words victorious and invincible. Being stubborn for the right reason can lead to good things. Hold firm to your resolution to improve your vocabulary, and you’ll come out a winner in the end.
Nourish your vocabulary and you won’t have the conversational equivalent of a nutrient deficiency. People and animals who practice geophagia (literally “dirt-eating”) generally do so because there’s something missing in their diets. Minerals like calcium or iron, and substances like salt, are found in soil, mud, and cliff faces where elephants, parrots, and even butterflies will eat and lick the ground to get the supplements not found in the plants and fruits they eat. If you make sure to get your daily dose of words, you’ll have a healthy vocabulary, and will be hungry for more good words.