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17 words that describe themselves
Autological words are a self-centered, self-referential bunch
 
A Hellenic sculpture.
A Hellenic sculpture. (Corbis)

Most words have a rather abstract connection to the things they describe. The word "yellow" is not actually yellow. The word "square" is not a square. Nor do we expect them to be. That's the way of the world and the arbitrary nature of language. But some words do embody the properties they denote. We call them autological words, and they are a self-centered, self-referential bunch. Here are 17 of them.

1. WORD
Yup, that's what it is.

2. ENGLISH
Well, it ain't French.

3. ERUDITE
It is a very scholarly word, this word that means scholarly.

4. NOUN
Verb, adjective, and adverb are nouns too.

5. BUZZWORD
Been hearing this everywhere.

6. CUTESY
Barfsy.

7. POLYSYLLABIC
Lots of syllables in this one.

8. SESQUIPEDALIAN
A term for "long word" from the Latin for "a foot and a half long."

9. UNHYPHENATED
And should remain so.

10. MAGNILOQUENT
Grandiose and pompous indeed.

11. RECHERCHÉ
Rarified? Affected? Pretentious? Mais, bien sûr, my dear.

12. PROPAROXYTONE
Meaning stressed on the antepenultimate, or third-to-last syllable. Pronounced pro-par-OX-y-tone

13. HELLENIC
Of Greek origin. From ancient Greek Ἑλληνικός (ellhnikos).

14. OBFUSCATORY
Do you want to be straightforward and easy to understand? Then don't use this obfuscatory word.

15. SUFFIXED
Now that you mention it, "prefix" works too.

16. MONEPIC
What's that word to describe a one-word sentence?
Monepic.
Oh, that's right. Thanks!

17. HETEROLOGICAL
The opposite of autological is heterological. A heterological word, like yellow or square, does not describe itself. So does "heterological" describe itself? If yes, then by definition it's autological, so then it doesn't describe itself. But if no, then "heterological" is heterological, therefore it actually does describe itself, which means it's autological… AM I BLOWING YOUR MIND? Welcome to the Grelling-Nelson Paradox.

For more autological words see the list maintained by Henry Segerman.

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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