A game I play during walking's boring bits (and there are boring bits, though guide books and walking memoirs never seem to mention them!) is 'My Top 10' - compiling a list of 10 top favourites in a particular category. I'm sure others do the same. I did it when on my 2nd Camino walk last year here ('10 Things I Miss About England') and here ('10 Things I Don't Miss About England') and here ('10 Influential Walking Books'). And I had some fun in Scotland recently considering '10 Top Uses Of The Trekking Pole' with another walker I met (odd to meet someone else with such a strangely perverse mind as my own.)
Lying in my tent a few weeks ago, listening to the wind and rain harry the remote Applecross peninsula where I'd camped the night, I idly compiled a list of 'Top 10 Favourite Words'. (I did it as quickly and spontaneously as possible. I thought that too much premeditation would ruin the game by making it too 'intellectual' - you'd never choose even the 1st one if you thought about the whys and wherefores too deeply.)
This was my list:
1 Harvest 2 Moon 3 Summer 4 Autumn 5 September 6 Lovely 7 Nice 8 Camino 9 Redolent 10 Pomegranate
Of course this is only a game, and a bit of fun - tomorrow's list would be completely different from today's. And a list compiled the day after tomorrow different again. However, I think it's interesting that my initial, careless list features on the whole fairly simple words, not very polysyllabic - and contains 3 adjectives and 7 nouns. (Quick thought on nouns and adjectives: nouns are indisputably there - concrete, correct, defined; adjectives are frilly, slippery, quicksilver creatures, always begging to be improved, threatening to be discarded, afraid of drowning the reader in a flowery glut.)
Of course I'm aware that words tend to lose much of their meaning and resonance in isolation. They shine and make more sophisticated sense in the context where they're used - that is, related to each other in a cohesive sentence, paragraph or verse.
Some words surely have a more mellifluous (now, there's a nice word!) sound than others. But does 'mellifluous' sound 'mellifluous' because we know the meaning of 'mellifluous'? What if 'mellifluous' meant 'rancid' or 'jealous' or 'carbuncular'? Can words ever be divorced from their meaning? Yet certain words do have a poetry and a potency just standing on their own, unsupported by the structure of syntax, and valued for individual sound and symbol - as in some chants, runes, charms and spells. Hasn't the Buddhist 'Om' got a resonance and a meaning which is, well, almost beyond words?
Lots of thoughts and questions since my original, simple list of 10! Perhaps all words are 'beautiful' if used correctly, imaginatively, sensitively and thoughtfully. Perhaps it's how we use language as a whole - in synthesis - that matters most, rather than these poor, lonely, isolated words.
What's your list of 'Top 10 Words' today? (No reflecting, please... just scribble them out..!)