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The Ugly Word

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Sir Paul McCartney once wrote a song that included the phrase female pulchritude and luminosity. The word pulchritude means “beauty,” but why such an ugly-sounding word for such a lovely thing? Pulchritude derives from pulcher, a Latin word meaning “beautiful,” “handsome,” or “fine,” and has been around in English since the 15th century. If you consider the word pulchritude unappealing, you might say it’s a heterological adjective — that is, one that does not describe itself. An autological word, in contrast, is one that does describe itself. For example, the adjective short is a short word, and polysyllabic has many syllables. This is part of a complete episode.

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