Onometapoeia: (n.)

Noun

A word that’s spelled like how feels to say.

//

As every dorky seventh-grader knows, onomatopoeia is what we call it when a word’s spelling emulates its own sound.

Bump! Blam! Zlorp! (yes, zlorp…)

We think of them as play words, childlike and fun, connoted as they are so often with children’s literature, comics, and cartoons. Batman’s Biffs! and Thwacks! The cold snikt of Logan’s claws. The thwip of Spidey’s webs… Nightcrawler brimstone BAMFs

But onomatopoeia aren’t just fantasy sounds. They’re like us. They’re dull. They hide all around, studding our drudge as we slap our blaring alarms in the morning and honk or our horns in traffic. We click our mice and tap our keyboards. We Scratch our scalps. Rattle the ice in our empty cold brew as we flip through magazines and crunch on our salads (as opposed to that dripping, sizzling burger your buddy got).

Everywhere smartphones ring and emails woosh and elevators chime as we shuffle and gabble and prattle and chatter and whisper and hollar and whine through the beeping and splashing and crashing and roaring and plinking and belching and zipping and zooming and tearing and hissing and hooting and blaring, tintinnabulatory world.

Gary Oldman GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But there’s something else I’ve noticed: A species of word so seemingly similar to onomatopoeia, it’s often overlooked. These are words that aren’t merely spelled to emulate their sound – rather, the work it takes to sound them emulates what mean.

Not onomatopoeia… but onometapoeia.

Ever notice how smooth the word smooth is? Say it out loud to yourself. Smooooooooth. No bumps. No wrinkles. Not one ruckled phoneme. Smooth is pure smoothness from tip to tail. It slips effortlessly from the mouth like a hand over a bedsheet.

And slip!

Think of the journey a slip takes. How it slides on the slick s, then lifts off the palate on the l, hovers aloft for the breath of the i, before collapsing finally on the cold, terminal p. Every slip slips from the lips.

Say it to yourself. Do it now. I dare ya. Slip.

bahijjaroudi animation loop cartoon life GIF
Behold a guttingly existential animation – a testament to that brute of fruits: the banana.

Spot one, and you’ll start to see onometapoeiae everywhere

How lazy lazys feel luxuriating across a sentence, stretching out like housecats. How looms loom long and dark, and boats bob on the buoyancy of their vowels, hulled by consonants. Every fling is flung from your teeth and tongue. Even tongue. It fills the mouth to say its name.

These words are little stories of themselves. Sleeks dive like falcons. Swamps feel like boots stuck in mud. Yonder echoes. Lather foams. Wrench and pry take oomph and muscle. Your ear might hear a bell ring. But you can feel in your mind the wring of a washcloth.

Slink. Velvet. Snuggle. Swivel. Frond. Crouch. Shine… They’re endless.

Even nipple is a story of itself. A sprightly bump, it juts and puckers, calling unanticipated attention to itself. Have you ever heard someone say nipple in casual conversation? It’s so… nippleish… innocent and dirty at once.

All this to say… look around at the words around you, and lean closer to the ones you can hear. And if you can’t find an onometapoeia… just look down. There are two (hopefully) waiting for you just under your shirt.

Swallop: (n.)

Noun

The feeling of being clobbered in the chest by a hasty gulp from a carbonated drink.

///

One day, a few years ago, I’d taken my car in to the garage to have some expensive part re-expensived. After a mere five minutes I’d managed to annoy the mechanic, so when he offered to get me a ride back to my apartment (as it would take the day to re-expensive my car), I panicked and insisted that I could walk.

This was in August. In New Jersey. And the heat and humidity had already reached critical, mouth-like levels. This was also during the long chapter of my life when I refused to wear shorts (an almost Calvinist period of affected self-denial, courtesy of my 20s). So, leaving him my contact information, I trudged out the door and waded my way through a hundreds-degree swamp of blinding sunlight, and choking humidity.

In jeans.

For about four or five miles.

By the time I made it home, I was quite near death. I shambled into my apartment groaning like a madman. I unbuckled my jeans which, being completely soaked-through with sweat, dropped to the floor and pooled around my feet. I needed hydration desperately, so I flung open my refrigerator and grabbed a frigid bottle of seltzer water, which I downed in one sloppy, guzzling swig.

All was slaked and satisfied. All was crisp and cool. And in an instant… regret pierced relief like a knife in the heart.

The carbonation, all jazzed up by its whitewater splashing down my gullet, went full supernova in my esophagus. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot rock, or a fistfull of bees. My eyes watered, my ears rang. I listed about the kitchen like a drunkard, too dazed to be still, too beset to adequately flail. I pounded my hand on the countertop once, twice, the pressure building and building in my chest… as if at any moment a fount of seltzer would burst, Xenomorphically, through my ribcage and redecorate my kitchen in Panebianco Red.

Ready to pop, I reeled back, opened my mouth wide, groaned the guttural groan of the over-seltzered… and I burped. Burped a burp that was more than a burp – it was a kind of birth. A tearing, keening, muscle-knotting display of physiological theater.

A kind of meat opera.

I coughed. I drooled. I dabbed tears from my eyes. And finally I laughed – alone, in my underwear, standing in my kitchen beside an open refrigerator, my pants piled about my ankles, an upended bottle of seltzer glugging its remaining contents onto the floor. And, as ever, my brainless cat standing sentinel, gawping at me in abject befuddlement.

In another few seconds, that moment would be gone. I would wipe my face and pull my pants up… pat my cat on his furry head, and move on with my day. I’d cancel my car-contingent plans. I’d clean my cat’s litter box. I’d make a sandwich, and watch an episode of Frasier (no doubt). I’d return to the ordinary stuff of days that right now I couldn’t possibly recall with any accuracy.

But that episode with the seltzer bottle – that I can’t possibly forget. Moreover, it acts in my memory like a lens – bringing into sharp focus the moments that proceeded and followed it. Amid all the things I’ve forgotten – important and inconsequential alike – this day I remember in vivid detail. Had it not been for that idiot spasm of seltzer-fueled grotesquerie, followed by the absurdity of me in my undies, drooling like a doofus and wiping my face on my forearm… I wouldn’t remember that day at all.

That’s what a moment of foolishness does – it sticks in your memory like a pushpin through a photograph. It holds fast that which time and nature seem so dead-set to take away. And the only cost is a little bit of pride, and the reminder that your body is way more gross than you’d like to admit.

How lucky is that?

Lathergy: (n.)

Noun

When you’re too lazy to bother shaving.

///

Greetings, fellow sufferers. How fare you in these cursed and plagued times?

I don’t know about you… but I haven’t shaved in weeks. I don’t quite see the point. If the world is going to end, I’d might as well dress the part.

Trouble is… I don’t grow facial hair the way most men grow facial hair. My unshorn face looks more like a cat pillow. Wispy, errant, and sparse.

And yet, the longer I wait the prouder I become.

I used to roll my eyes at those baroquely moustachioed man-chaps… and with good reason, sure. It takes a certain kind of twerp to wear a vandyke while ordering yoga pants on an iPhone. All those tiresome hipsterettes with their twee little moustache tattoos on their fingerside. Enough, I say. Enough.

But the longer I wait… the more I see.

My moustache… it’s growing fuller. My cheeks and chin are knitting together. Broader. So many Movembers and Moustache Marches I’ve sat by, soft-faced and sidelined. But now I see my beardlette growing darker, potent, and powerful.

What if I didn’t shave at all? What if I stopped all forms of self-care from the neck up? Would I summon enough to one day have a knotted Dwarven warrior-braid?

Or the conical stalactite of a Pharoh?

Martin Van Buren’s sideburn corona?

A Rabbi’s tetragrammatonic pour?

A Marxian whisker riot?

O! So many me’s I could be.