Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 Ways to Say Something Nice

Susie Dent has supplied us with ten words to repeat all day long; useful utterances to stay positive after a bleak week.


Susie Dent has supplied us with useful utterances to stay positive after a bleak week.

Happy dog

Infamy, megalomania, iniquity, bloviation – the darkest pages of the dictionary are certainly in the spotlight at the moment. But then English has always delivered the negatives particularly well: for every compliment it can offer hundreds of insults, for every expression of happiness there is a whole counter-lexicon for melancholy.

Yet in the corners of our language there are many sparkles of positivity if you look for them – and now surely feels like a good time. Here are ten words, most of them long-forgotten, that happify by their beauty, playfulness, or simple mellifluousness. May they offer solace and a smile.

resipiscence: The three letters in the middle of this word, which means a return to a better state of mind, might suggest it is achieved mostly through alcohol. It began however as something much loftier, with the Latin resipiscentia which meant ‘to be wise again’. In other words, resipiscence means coming back to our senses. That said, today’s version might well coincide with the arrival of quafftide and a restorative glass or two.

good-willy: Good-willy is the happy sibling of the willy family, which also includes ‘evil-willy’ and ‘ill-willy’. Simply put, to be good-willy is to be generous towards others and generally warm and easy-going. A good-willy individual is the friend we all need.

Sea air

Spindrift is the salty tang of the sea.

spindrift: The dulcet sounds of this word reflect an equally lovely meaning. Spindrift is the salty tang of the sea, whipped up from ocean waves by the wind.

mudita: Judging by the popularity of Schadenfreude, many of us like to take vicarious pleasure in other people’s misfortune. It’s good to know however that there is a far more positive counterpart in mudita, from the Sanskrit for ‘joy’. But not just any old joy: mudita is the shared kind – an unselfless pleasure in witnessing the happiness of others, and that in English was once called ‘confelicity’. Both words surely belong in our vocabulary.

suspire: Breathing inspires a host of English words – including ‘inspire’ itself, which comes from the Latin spirare, ‘breathe’. When we inspire someone, we breathe life into their ideas. ‘Perspire’, ‘respire’, and ‘expire’ all come from the same family, which quietly offers a far lesser-known member, ‘suspire’. To suspire is to utter a deep and meaningful sigh.

cwtch: To say that the Welsh cwtch is just a hug is to sell it very short. Regularly voted as one of the nation’s favourite words, cwtch has no true English translation. It can also mean a cubbyhole or cupboard – a small space in which to store things safely. Blend this with a hug and you get a better idea of the word’s full impact: a cwtch (pronounced to rhyme with ‘butch’) involves the wrapping of arms around someone special to make them feel safe and cherished.

A hug in Wales

A cwtch involves the wrapping of arms around someone special to make them feel safe and cherished.

nidificate: The impulse to nidificate has never been stronger than in the last few years – for humans, at least. The word really belongs to the birds, however, for nidificating is the act of building a cosy nest and staying there for a long while. 

snottinger: Never let it be said that the Victorians didn’t have a sense of humour. ‘Snottinger’ was their alternative word for a hankie.

thorough-cough: Recorded variously as a ‘thorough-cough’ or a ‘through cough’, this is simply the act of coughing and breaking wind at the same time. The fact that someone thought to come up with a name for it, and that someone else included it in the dictionary, is a pleasure in itself.

eucatastrophe: Happy endings may be hard to find, but we do at least have a word for them thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien. A ‘eucatastrophe’ is the antithesis of a catastrophe: an unexpected event of happiness or good fortune. Tolkien took the Greek prefix eu meaning ‘good’ (there in ‘euphemism’ too) and turned disaster on its head. A ‘eucatastrophe’, he explained in a letter, is ‘the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears’.

Wouldn’t we all like some of that?


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