Word of the Week: felicity
Say it out loud. It’s a delight. Just look how happy Keri Russell is with that dog. I bet its name is “Felicity,” and she named it that just because of how wonderful it is to say the word, and how she missed out on getting to say it all the time because that was her character’s name, and people rarely refer to themselves in third person. (I’m sorry. I’ll try and keep the Keri Russell ’90s TV show references to a minimum…)* That light “l” sound in the middle (which is a liquid consonant known as an alveolar lateral approximant) just creates a feeling of fun. Say “la la la la” over and over again, with the tip of your tongue tapping that ridge behind your upper teeth. That’s just fun. That’s what this word creates.
It’s also very light and pretty-sounding. It’s sort of the word version of Keri Russell’s delicately-featured face. It is full of everything that is pleasing without being too much or too overwhelming. To me, when consonants are spaced out with vowels one right after the other, those vowel spaces create an openness that is comfortable and pleasant to speak and hear. Fe-li-ci-ty. This vowel spacing is especially fun in words with four or more syllables. It’s all the fun of a big long word without getting bogged down by a change in rhythm or tripping over consonants.
Also, check out those Latin roots, and let those puzzle pieces click together in your head when you think about Latin felicitas, English felicity, and the Spanish “feliz.” It’s a small linguistic world after all.
Now, on to** the meaning of the word. There are few things that make me happier than words being used to their utmost fullness and potential, and this word captures that. It means both intense happiness AND expressing one’s thoughts most accurately. As a lover of words, and as someone who wants to teach writing and the use of words, I may feel more affection than most toward this particular word, but I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say that “felicity” embodies the goal of language. The occurrence of speech or writing with felicity (the 2nd definition) means that the writer or speaker has expressed his or herself such that he or she is both understood by the audience and can be related to by the audience. This is what quality communication strives to do, and I absolutely love that this word, which means effective communication, also means intense happiness. It’s as if the more effectively we communicate with one another, the deeper our happiness will be. Gosh. Being able to express my felicity about “felicity” with felicity (I hope) is just sending me into new levels of felicity.
So now you’re a little more aware of the word “felicity” and its meanings. Go try it out next time you have a conversation with a stranger, and see if you both can reach a level of felicity. Or, if not, just watch a rerun of Felicity and see if they’re experiencing felicity. Although I doubt they will be.***
Also, here are some of my favorite multiple-syllable words with good consonant-to-vowel ratios:
This word means having to do with the compiling of dictionaries. Gorgeous.
This one is the ability of something to be dissolved, especially in water. Tasty.
*I actually think that show is stupid. I started watching it recently on Netflix and was underwhelmed, to say the least. Now that I’m actually in college, and nearing the end of college, shows about college just don’t have the same charm for me that they once did. I just have a friend crush on Keri Russell and am nostalgic about the shows of my youth.
**It fascinates me to learn about the phrases we use in everyday conversation and writing, and I was happy to have discovered such an articulate distinction between “onto” and “on to.” From the NOAD:
*** It’s one of those shows in which the plot is sustained by the characters’ refusal to talk to each other and tell each other the complete truth, and the acting isn’t great, so there’s little intense happiness and even less seemingly effective communication.
All definitions are from the New Oxford American Dictionary, of course.