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Euphonics

ii iii Such verbal associations are notorious afflictions on mental patients, and they also haunt the poetic mind. As part of his dangerous game the poet is forced to receive these germs of madness, to make them welcome and find profit in their visitations. He will also cultivate the art or nervous compulsion of rhyming, together with alliteration commonly used in Teutonic and Old English verse, where consonance is in the first rather than the last syllables of words. Alliteration and the spontaneous associations of sounds and meanings are then brought together to constitute poetic Euphonics. By that word is implied the most subtle and magical of the ancient sacred sciences, to do with the psychological effects of sound, and the use of music and sonorous speech for the spreading of enchantments. The primary text in Euphonics is Platos Cratylus, a Socratic dialogue about the origins of language and the influence of archetypal sounds on the formation of words. It is subtitled On the Correctness of Names. The debate is between Socrates and two other characters, Cratylus, who claims to know the science of nomenclature and what there is in a name which makes it correct or otherwise, and Hermogenes, who denies that there is any science or inherent correctness in naming things. His contention is that whatever name you choose to give anything is its right name. The third party, Socrates, examines both arguments and comes down on the side of Cratylus. The dialogue is long, intricate and in parts quite mystifying. In speculating about the original forms and derivations of names, Socrates teases his listeners with outrageous puns and obscure allusions which modern scholars are at a loss in interpret. He claims no special knowledge of the subject but offers the view that a name appears to be a vocal imitation, and a person who imitates something with his voice names that which he imitates. There are to accord with the sounds they denote. Academic linguists and etymologists, amid their serious studies of secular derivations and verbal migrations, have no time for such whimsical notions but to a poet this aural approach to language is allimportant. Every sensitive writer is concerned not only with the proclaimed meaning of words, but also with their esoteric, subliminal qualities, their pitch and ring and the irrational feelings produced by the sound, and sometimes by the sight of them. Onomatopoeia as defined in the O.E.D. is, Formation of names or words from sounds that resemble those associated with the object or action to be named, or that seem naturally suggestive of its qualities. The example given is cuckoo, and there are many other words, such as plop, click, buzz, purr, hiss, hem and haw, which are obvious attempts at imitating a sound. Similar attempts are made in all languages. The question which then arises is to what extent these imitative sounds influence the meanings of the longer, composite words in which they occur. This Dictionary is designed to assist its readers individual judgements on the matter. Its usefulness will be apparent to poets, dramatists, ritualists, occultists, advertisers, orators and all who require to choose words and sounds for their powers of invocation. A previous essay on the Poetical Alphabet forms a chapter in a book called Pluriverse by the idiosyncratic American philosopher, Benjamin Paul Blood 18321919. He begins by telling of a discussion he once had as to why an icicle could not fitly be called a tub, nor vica versa. It is in the the nature of its name, he concluded, for a tub to be short and stubby whereas an icicle sounds spindly and slim. At the sound of icicle the irrational mind throws up the word bicycle, which is also spindly, and often cold, explaining perhaps the popular acceptance of that word to name a pedalcranked twowheeler.
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