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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…

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