What does the word ‘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 Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, a book that appears to be a straightforward family-goes-on-holiday story that morphs into a horror/fantasy tale. (I’m not typically a fan of horror/fantasy but I found this book more engaging than most in the genre.)

Here is how Alam used the word:

And save that there was only the gentle rustle of the trees adjusting their limbs and the susurrus of unseen insects.

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.

The etymology of susurrus is Latin, meaning literally “a humming, muttering, whispering.”

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