Happy Wednesday, word nerds! You may be tempted to think today’s word has been inspired by the onset of coughs and colds as we move into winter here in Australia, but it actually has more to do with the sudden love my children have developed for the Disney animation of Beauty and the Beast. And ten points to you if you know what the connection is between Beauty and the Beast and the word expectorating!
Perhaps it’s the natural result of growing up with two musicians for parents, but movie love translates to soundtrack love in our house, so at the moment, Beauty and the Beast is the accompaniment of choice as we drive around to afternoon activities. Well, when we’re not listening to The Lion King! Every time the song Gaston comes on, I find myself giggling, not just at Gaston’s absurd ego, but at the way it’s expressed in the song. I think everyone would agree that there is something pleasing about a good rhyme, but there is something extra enjoyable about rhymes that surprise us with their cleverness, and that is exactly what the word expectorating does in the song Gaston.
No one hits like Gaston
Matches wits like Gaston
In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston
I’m especially good at expectorating
I should point out that the song follows this general pattern, with Gaston’s line rhyming with his corresponding line in other stanzas, for example:
As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating and
I use antlers in all of my decorating
But why are rhymes like these so pleasurable? It’s a difficult question for science to answer, but one theory is that we have an inbuilt desire from childhood to order our world. Rhyming is an important building block for learning to read and spell, because it shows that a child is beginning to make links between all of the words in his or her vocabulary, and we continue to enjoy this method of organising language into pleasing patterns and rhythms into adulthood.
Another theory suggests that reward centres in the brain are activated when we correctly anticipate rhyme and rhythm. Personally, I think there’s a measure of both involved.
In the case of Gaston, however, it’s not just the rhyme and rhythm; it’s also the choice of vocabulary. If organising language into predictable patterns is gratifying, how much more gratifying is it to be able to rhyme multi-syllabic words like intimidating, decorating, and expectorating? And how much more pleasure is there to be gained from getting that anticipated rhyme and rhythm in an unexpectedly sophisticated or witty way?
Then there’s the way in which the melody emphasizes the key word. If you don’t know the song, here’s an eleven second snippet from the movie that includes this memorable line: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEIAAgt_c10
So, after all this you may be asking, “What on earth does expectorating mean?” Well, it’s a fancy-shmancy word for the very un-fancy act of spitting! And if that isn’t the cherry on top, I don’t know what is! The word is ironic all on its own!
Of course, with all of this singing about expectorating, I couldn’t help but wonder about the origin of the word. As we discussed last week, the prefix ex– means ‘out of’ or ‘out from’. When I looked expectorate up, I realised I should have been able to work out that pectus means chest (pectoral muscles, anyone?). Hence, expectorate literally means, ‘out of the chest’. Ever heard of an expectorant? An expectorant is something that helps loosen mucus so that you can cough it up. But now we’re getting really icky, so I think we’ll leave it there!
Do you enjoy a good rhyme? Have a favourite poet? Do share!