17 Words that Describe Themselves
By Arika Okrent
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.
Yup, that’s what it is.
Well, it ain’t French.
It is a very scholarly word, this word that means scholarly.
Verb, adjective, and adverb are nouns too.
Been hearing this everywhere.
Lots of syllables in this one.
A term for “long word” from the Latin for “a foot and a half long.”
And should remain so.
Grandiose and pompous indeed.
Rarified? Affected? Pretentious? Mais, bien sûr, my dear.
Meaning stressed on the antepenultimate, or third-to-last syllable. Pronounced pro-par-OX-y-tone
Of Greek origin. From ancient Greek Ἑλληνικός (ellhnikos).
Do you want to be straightforward and easy to understand? Then don’t use this obfuscatory word.
Now that you mention it, “prefix” works too.
What’s that word to describe a one-word sentence?
Oh, that’s right. Thanks!
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.