Word of the Week: viscera

Viscera… One of those wonderful words that sounds so much better than the things it describes.

I love the brevity of the initial /Ī/ vowel and the final short vowels that almost seem to elide together around the /r/, ending the words in a gentle exhalation, a sigh, a breath. And then the length of the /s/ in the middle that seems to linger and lurk around the whole word, writhing like a snake… or like the coils of the intestine.

Which leads us to the meaning of this beautiful word: all the guts and spleen and liver and gall bladder and bladder-bladder and pancreas and bloody wriggling boiling organs that keeps these frail human bodies working. There is something very physical, honest and brutal about the images that this word conjures up.

I am epileptic and both photosensitive and audiogenic. When I hear loud, rhythmic, heavy beats in music it can generate such a strong urge to run that visceral is the only word to describe it: it is deep wrenching panicked urgent need to flee deep in my gut.

The word itself derives from Latin viscus which is pluralised to viscera meaning the internal organ(s) of a body. The adjectival form visceral is such a great word to describe those things that affect us physically in art, cinema and watching the latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn, for example, after the initial 90 minutes of utter tedium, I found viscerally repulsive in the birthing scene; the lovely Mrs P had an identical reaction to Alien vs Predator; visceral is a wonderful word for my students to use in analysing Wilfrid Owen’s poetry redolent with a personal response to literature and words.

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