All Wrapped Up In The Polar Vortex

Mother Nature dropped a bitterly cold nastygram on our doorsteps this week. While I abhor cold weather in all its guises, I admit I am crushing on the meteorological moniker sometimes bestowed upon these events: 'polar vortex'.

A NASA image of a past polar vortex. Image source here.

Polar Vortex.

Polar. VORtex.

I find myself swishing it around in my mind as well as my mouth, enjoying the feel of it as that V and that X come tantalizingly close to colliding, were it not for the abrupt intervention of R and T. I really don't care what it means (although I did Google - NERD). It's one of those great phrases I will be tossing around for as long as I can get away with it. Somebody please name a car and a lipstick and a Ben & Jerry's flavor after this thing ASAP. Marketing gold, I'm tellin' ya.

Which of course got me thinking about other phrases I enjoy saying, hearing, thinking, regardless of what they mean. In my favorites, the words just sound great together. Much like a fine wine, the individual components intertwine in a way that guarantees satisfaction. It's all about the perfect pairing of consonants with syllable count. Too many vowels, and you come off wheezy and ineffective. Too many syllables, and it's clunky and unpronounceable. And don't forget about a touch of emphasis at the proper time. In the above example, it must be the VOR; not the PO, not the LAR and certainly not the TEX.

Here are a few more of my favorites. Check out those consonants!

Battlestar Galactica - it's all about the 'ac', a little about the added 'a'. Battlestar Galactic would be fairly cool, but that extra 'a' is the cherry on top.

Big Bang - short and sweet, yet explains a complex astronomical phenomenon even a four-year-old can understand. And you can't ignore the sexual overtones here. Apologies to all the four-year-olds.

Event Horizon - maybe due to the perfectly wretched eponymous movie, but a shiver runs down my spine whenever I hear this phrase. It says Ruh Roh! in the classiest possible way.

Superconducting Super Collider - all those S's slamming around, describing something so smashing, one 'super' doesn't do the job!

Boom Stick - Originally intended for baseball bats, but I hijacked it for my tennis racquet. At my age this is a bit of a stretch to describe my game, but it amuses me, so it stays.

Seeing a pattern here. The science community must have a heckuva marketing linguist stashed away somewhere!

There is some science behind my amateur analysis of what makes words 'sound' good together. Turns out most people prefer words with a good balance of vowels and consonants. Words containing letters that make more noise ('plosive' to you linguists out there) attract more attention - the backfiring cars of phonetics. And as in most things, sexism also rears its ugly head. Some letters are perceived as masculine; others feminine. There is some overlap between the noisy letters and the masculine letters, as anyone who has raised boys could have predicted.

The cold is already receding from  my part of the country. I won't miss it, but I will miss hearing and reading about the Polar Vortex throughout the day. I know I can count on the wordsmiths to come up with a few more delightful word pairings to get us through the winter. A pity we also have deal with the not-so-delightful weather they accompany.

 

This post originally appeared in January 2014.

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