Lately I just can’t stop me from spouting poetry. I mean I’m always that way, but toss me the slightest ort of kind encouragement, and I am off! or rather, I’m “on”!
I think I’ve told you before that one of my favorite phrases is MacLeish’s “the iron of English rings from a tongue” . That’s so great,shiver-inducing! because the words: ENGlish, rING, TONGue, themselves “ring”, resound, resonate. Like blows on an iron anvil. And a blow only has one syllable.
Think of Hamlet’s soliloquy. Everybody knows those first six words, everybody. Yeah, he gets a tad more polysyllabic as it goes on—and most people couldn’t recite much more of the speech. In our glorious iron tongue, if you wanna hit ‘em hard, say it in words of one syllable:
“I dare do all that may become a man./Who dares do more, is none.” (Macbeth)
“Death./My Lord?/ A grave./ He shall not live!” ( King John)
“One had a pretty face/And two or three had charm/ But charm and face were in vain/Beacuse the mountain grass/ Cannot but keep the form/ Where the mountain hare has lain”. (Yeats, Memory)
“THOU art the man!” ( Nathan pronouncing judgment on the adulterous King David, KJV)
“I will not let thee go, except thou bless me!” Jacob at the Ford of Jabbuk, KJV
“Don’t Tread On Me” (legend of the Gadsden flag.)
All of the above have an occasional two-syllable word, max. And the extra syllable is s language part, or a compound word, mostly: like become, cannot.
When we’re writing, longer words are pleasurable, and polysyllabic words seem to have, idk, inherent comic potential, like in a line from PG Wodehouse I came across recently:”He may not have been disgruntled, but he was very far from being gruntled”.
But also, multi-syllable words can be, like, a melody: “illimitable” for instance, in Brooke’s phrase “desire illimitable”; that second 5 syllable word sounds like a bubbling spring ,a fountain of desire! And my current faves: any word containing the (IMHO) supremely euphonic “lalia”: glossolalia, yes, but even more so, xenolalia ( when someone in a trance or through the Spirit miraculously becomes fluent in a hitherto unknown foreign tongue. No verified cases.) But call it “xenoglossy”, and you’re in Lewis Carrol territory. In case you’ve ever wondered, what happened at Pentecost, where the listeners understood the Apostles’ words each In the listener’s own language, is called “akolalia”. (That’s not so lovely, unless you pronounce the initial a long instead of short.)
Well, I’ve had fun here. I reckon my conclusion about English, take it or leave it (see?!) is : say it with a stone; write it with flowers!