Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Saturday, October 13


I adore words. All of them. Even the dirty ones. I like to know their roots and pedigrees, their connotations and pronunciations. And I like to show them off by using them in front of people who don't know them. Not really, but my husband sometimes thinks so when I throw out words like recalcitrant during dinner conversation and then make him look it up instead of just telling him what it means. I am always in search of new words. Some new ones I learned this semester are daedal and panjandrum. Yeah, I bet you didn't know daedal was a word. Even worse, it's pronounced "deed'l". I put new words I learn on my office door with their usage and definition. Sort of a cross between a reminder on the bathroom mirror and public service announcement for the international grad students. At least, I thought of it as a way to share new English words with my friends until I thought about what would happen if Zhenyi, a Chinese grad student, correctly used panjandrum in a sentence. Every American in earshot would roll their eyes at Chinese girl who can't speak English. If they were nice Americans they would at least try to figure out what English word she was trying to say. No red-blooded American would say "Panjandrum. I don't know that word. What does it mean?" So now I stick to words that sound like real English.

Anyway, why the obsession with words? Words are important. Just look at Turkey and the U.S. Senate. Everyone agrees a lot of Armenians were killed. All they are fighting over is the word genocide (from the Latin genus meaning race or kind and cide meaning cut or kill, in case you had a burning desire to know). And word disputes don't just occur at the international level. For example, when Scott gets mad he gets all petulant so I'll notice and then the conversation goes something like this:

Me: Baby, are you mad at me?
Scott: No.
Me: Are you angry?
Scott: No.
Me: Are you upset?
Scott: No.
Me: Oka-ay. Fine.
Scott: I'm frustrated.

I began to consider combing through a dictionary and creating a checklist: Angry? Chaffed? Affronted? Resentful? Indignant? Irate? Vexed? Fortunately, Scott began answering the meaning of the question instead of insisting on particular words, thus narrowly averting the deaths of many trees. There are hundreds of words that mean some shade of upset.

People also get picky about their acronyms. I attended the Oklahoma School of S&M for my last two years of high school. You read that right. S&M baby. As in Science & Math. Obviously, the administration of the school didn't want anyone calling it "the Oklahoma School of S&M". They preferred OSSM, read "awesome". Like any 16-yr-old would actually refer to their high school as "awesome". Sometimes the drive for a good acronym leads to somewhat ridiculous results. Like the USA PATRIOT Act. It stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act". How would you like to have been in on the meeting where they came up with that acronym? "Okay, now what about O? What words start with O? Anyone? What about obtuse?"

Since I love words, it seems fated that I should have married someone who uses them so creatively. Scott thinks phonetically and so conversations become a continuous game of "sounds like":

Let's get a quirky keyboard.
It's my consultation prize.
They were forging the river.

For anyone who cares, such a mistake is called a malapropism, which is from the Latin mal, meaning bad or ill-suited, and apropos, meaning appropriate for the task. Scott also has some unique pronunciations. My personal favorite is robotics. Seven years of marriage and I still giggle every time he says "robuttocks". If you didn't laugh when you read that, try saying it out loud. Better yet, try pronouncing it that way in front of other people. Bet somebody snickers.

In an attempt to spread a love of words, I am closing this post by sharing my current favorite word: coruscate which refers to light glinting of a surface (e.g. water, metal) or twinkling. Now doesn't light glinting off water seem a little prettier just by having such a pretty word to describe it?


Jill said...

I don't think I'd ever be in a conversation where "coruscate" would be THE word to say.

ha ha.

However, here's a word that you may not know: melisma. Use it & then you'll sound quite musical. ;)

Barbara said...

I promise, not only the international grad students enjoy the words on your board!

Anonymous said...

How about one of my favorite words:
"polychromatic"? It means "having or composed of many colors". I use it as my nickname (polychromatix)a lot because my favorite color is rainbow, lol...