What does susurrus mean?

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: susurrus.

I love onomatopoeia which occurs when words phonetically   imitate, resemble or suggest the source of the sound that they describe.

Some of these words are related to water: splash, spray and sprinkle. Others recall the human voice: giggle, growl and grunt. Still others are meant to resemble collisions: clang, clank and clap. Others evoke air: flutter, fwoosh and gasp. Yet others represent animal sounds: baa, bark and buzz.

Most of these are everyday, 25-cent words with which you’re surely already familiar. But here is one of my favourite $2 onomatopoeic words: susurrus. I found it, most recently,  in the novel The Children Act by Ian McEwan, a book with an uninteresting plot but McEwan’s reliably splendid writing.

No sound from the bedroom, nothing but the susurrus of traffic gliding through the rain. 

Susurrus means whispering, murmuring or rustling, for example: “Listen to the susurrus of the stream.” The word comes from the Latin susurrus, “a humming, muttering, whispering.” I just love those sibilant S’s that so clearly evoke the meaning of the word.