from individual to individual according to the personal
associations of each, varies, indeed, from time to
time in a single individual’s consciousness as
his experiences mold him and his moods change.
To be sure, there are socially accepted feeling-tones,
or ranges of feeling-tone, for many words over and
above the force of individual association, but they
are exceedingly variable and elusive things at best.
They rarely have the rigidity of the central, primary
fact. We all grant, for instance, that storm
, and hurricane
, quite aside from
their slight differences of actual meaning, have distinct
feeling-tones, tones that are felt by all sensitive
speakers and readers of English in a roughly equivalent
, we feel, is a more general and
a decidedly less “magnificent” word than
the other two; tempest
is not only associated
with the sea but is likely, in the minds of many, to
have obtained a softened glamour from a specific association
with Shakespeare’s great play; hurricane
has a greater forthrightness, a directer ruthlessness
than its synonyms. Yet the individual’s
feeling-tones for these words are likely to vary enormously.
To some tempest
“soft,” literary words, the simpler storm
having a fresh, rugged value which the others do not
possess (think of storm and stress
we have browsed much in our childhood days in books
of the Spanish Main, hurricane
is likely to
have a pleasurably bracing tone; if we have had the
misfortune to be caught in one, we are not unlikely
to feel the word as cold, cheerless, sinister.
[Footnote 9: E.g., the brilliant Dutch writer,
Jac van Ginneken.]
The feeling-tones of words are of no use, strictly
speaking, to science; the philosopher, if he desires
to arrive at truth rather than merely to persuade,
finds them his most insidious enemies. But man
is rarely engaged in pure science, in solid thinking.
Generally his mental activities are bathed in a warm
current of feeling and he seizes upon the feeling-tones
of words as gentle aids to the desired excitation.
They are naturally of great value to the literary artist.
It is interesting to note, however, that even to the
artist they are a danger. A word whose customary
feeling-tone is too unquestioningly accepted becomes
a plushy bit of furniture, a cliche. Every
now and then the artist has to fight the feeling-tone,
to get the word to mean what it nakedly and conceptually
should mean, depending for the effect of feeling on
the creative power of an individual juxtaposition of
concepts or images.
THE SOUNDS OF LANGUAGE