I just finished this wonderful piece by Maria Bustillos reflecting on what she found in the archived papers and personal self-help library of her friend David Foster Wallace. You should go read it, if you’re interested. The piece ends with this quiz that Wallace gave his undergraduates:
WIN A LUNCH WITH DAVE, SPARKLING CONVERSATIONALIST, WELL-MANNERED EATER, BY SIMPLY IDENTIFYING WHAT ALL THE FOLLOWING WORDS HAVE IN COMMON:
My own answer to the quiz is after the jump. Curious to hear other ideas.
These are words to be avoided for their failure to illustrate their own meaning. Particularly “pulchritude” (has an uglier word ever been uttered?) and “S-less” (which violates itself three times). Untyped, Unwritten, Indefinable, Misspelled, Invisible, Incomprehensible likewise defy their own definitions. Big is a little word; Diminutive is big. High-class is a tacky phrase, while Obscene and Vulgar are rather dainty. And Foreign is such a common, ordinary word, so divorced from its possibility as to almost carry no meaning at all.
UPDATE: Saidi informs me that the term for these words is “heterological.” I hope Professor Wallace would have given me credit anyway.