Daily Archives: December 11, 2008


A fat little word, not a fat little bird. This word comes from the Latin pinguis, meaning fat, plump, etc. Ironically, it starts with a pin – but thin it isn’t! Nor does the metallic percussion (and computer and sonar action) of ping bring to mind the lard of this word, even though there is a full family of fat-flavoured ping words, including pinguefy, pinguescence, and pinguitude. The taste of of pig gets closer to the sense. The second syllable has a movement like the second syllable of liquid, but that word has a [k] where this has the ng, and what a difference some nasal and voicing can make: so much fuller and fatter a sound. You can’t say this word without kissing the air; in fact, with the opening p, it’s like kissing it on both cheeks, like a fat little baby. As an added bonus, the word will look about the same if rotated 180 degrees, as long as you use a typographical g with its figure-eight-ness: the pin simply spins to be uid. It could blow in the breeze like an anemometer – or like one of those spinning sidewalk signs in front of greasy spoon joints. Not to force it, though: this word has an assortment of characteristics not suggestive of fat. Its obvious primary overtone is of a bird that looks like a waiter (or a chorister). But are these birds notably fat? Not really (Opus notwithstanding), though this word might make you think of them as such. They do, on the other hand, have a white head – in Welsh, pen gwyn. (Yes, an Antarctic bird has, it seems, gotten its name from a Welsh phrase.)