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Definition: A whisper – a soft murmur.

Pronunciation: Sue-sur-ay-shun

Origin: 1350-1400, Middle English – from late Latin word Susurration, related to susurrus, the verb ‘to whisper’.

Why this word?

Being grammarians (is that a real word??), Chrissy and I have always been interested in words that exemplify linguistic concepts. In this case, the concept of Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is the concept used to describe words that sound like the entity they describe. The word ‘Honk’ sort of sounds like the noise it describes, for example. Ping-Pong is another – a term that came to mean table tennis. It got its name, incidentally, from the sound that the original stretched-parchment paddles made when striking the ball.

Susurration clearly falls into this category of words. It sounds just like a whisper. Chrissy first came across it in Jean Burnett’s book ‘Who Needs Mr. Darcy’, when the author gave the following description of a river:

The water was still and sinister, not even a susurration stirred at my feet’.

How to use this word:

Although it’s a very beautifully constructed, evocative word, it is difficult to know where to use this one. Should you ask your lover to susurrate sweet nothings into your ear? Do you describe a particularly quiet voice as being not more than a susurration?

Despite these difficulties, Susurration deserves to be used – though perhaps only in limited fashion. I suspect that it may best be suited to paper rather than voice. So the next time you’re writing about silent places or writing your next love poem, remember . It is, after all, a word that does not deserve to be kept quiet.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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