Words that in some way embody themselves are always fun. Best known in this category are words that sound like themselves. Examples of onomatopoeia include “cough,” “snap,” “melodious” and “zip.” But the association doesn’t have to be purely aural. “Bling,” the hip-hop word for a culture that prizes flash baubles, derives from a sort of visual onomatopoeia: light glistening off jewellery (though it may also refer to the idea of jewellery—or champagne glasses—clinking).
Also in this category are words that describe, rather than sound like, themselves. The name for such words is “autological.” “Short” is autological because it is a short word. “Polysyllabic” is another example, as are “complete,” “unhyphenated” and “used.” My favourite example is “sesquipedalian”—which means using unnecessarily long words. Whether a word is autological or not often depends on the context. In the context of this column, “typed” is autological. But if I were writing it with a pen, it wouldn’t be.
People’s names can also embody themselves—or, rather, embody an attribute of their bearer. A famous example is Russell Brain, a leading neurologist. The linguistic term for a name that is especially appropriate is an “aptronym.” I found this word in a book by David Crystal, a leading expert on language. Perhaps, given his own name, it isn’t surprising that it was there.