These Are a Few of My Favorite Words

May 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm Leave a comment

I am a political junkie, an information addict, and a compulsive collector of recipes. My office drawers bulge from decades of clipping and filing, so I switched to e-files to avoid overwhelming my living space. Still, I recently had to place limits on myself for fear of overwhelming the little gnome who runs around inside my hard drive trying to keep all that electronic data organized. But those obsessions have blossomed gradually over time. My true lifelong investment of passion has been in language. 

Words. I love ’em. I am awed by their power and beauty. I even collect them. I have a second-hand William F. Buckley, Jr.’s 366 Words You’d Like to Know calendar at my bedside, and can’t get through the day without a crossword puzzle fix. It goes without saying that reading and writing top my list of favorite leisure-time activities, but I’ll say it anyway. I guess all this makes me a logophile – a term which was ironically omitted from my 2,129 page Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second-Edition, Deluxe Color, ©1979. 

Choose just the right word and you enhance the effectiveness of your message; choose the wrong one and you distract from or even annihilate it.  Perhaps that’s why I know scores of perfectly intelligent folks who are utterly intimidated by the thought of stringing words together, either for oral delivery or in essay form. But stage fright and performance anxiety aside, who can not be intrigued by the infinite variety of linguistic possibilities or the exotic appeal of certain terminologies, both esoteric and mundane. 

The fact is that some words are too delicious not to savor, like “noisome” or “draggle,” which are virtually self-defining (“draggle: to be drawn on the ground”) and have a nice way of tripping off the tongue. 

Then there is the chunky mouthful, “spelunker,” an amateur cave-explorer; the lip-pursing “pudency,” a state of modesty or prudishness; the straight-forward “prate,” for pointless babble; that good old 10th grade biology term, “pupate,” as when an insect moves from larval to adult form; the sadly applicable contemporary disease of “anomie,” or lack of purpose, identity, or ethical values in a person or society; the equally applicable “otiose,” meaning unemployed, idle, indolent; and “pixilated,” not to be confused with the pixelation in video images, but rather a more impish way of describing a person’s amusing eccentricity. 

In the animal kingdom, there are aquatic mammals called “dugongs”; common blackbirds called “daws”; human meddlers dubbed “quidnuncs”; small ducks labeled “smews”; an ignorant and uncultured social class comprising the “booboisie”; those traitorous collaborators known as “quislings”; and the “demimonde,” a deceptively chic reference to the world of prostitution. 

As for sheer ear-music, from the Norse we have “gloppen,” as in being unpleasantly surprised; from the French, the plaintive “cri de coeur,” an impassioned cry from the heart; the onomatopoeic “clangor,” to represent repeated clanging or loud racket; the clever trick also known as a “dido”; “pip,” with it’s five definitions, each offering two-to-three sub definitions; and a favorite from my adolescence, “dink,” which actually refers to a dinghy or a drop shot as well as a ditzy teenager. You may even catch me looking for deviations from the usual, just so I have an excuse to vocalize the word “dissimilitude.” It possesses a rather symphonic aurality, don’t you think? 

And some terms take you back to certain significant life phases, such as the philosophy major’s pretensions of “ergo,” to break up a string of “therefores” and hences”; “extant,” as shorthand for “currently in existence”; and “noetic,” to encompass all things intellect-related. Then there is “Babylonian,” to cover the excesses of youthful indulgence; “sopor,” to capture the unnatural depth of a fatigued child’s peaceful sleep; and “farctate,” a botanical reference that might well describe many post-Thanksgiving-feast states of stuffedness, a word I just made up to fit an immediate need – the pragmatic overruling the grammatic. 

For a number of years, I elected to give various nieces and nephews dictionaries as high school graduation gifts. They thought I was nuts. In the words of one, “What do I need it for now?” Au contraire, I insisted “You need it now more than ever. It’s an essential tool for lifelong learning and self-development,” I droned on, but he was too busy massaging his head in bafflement to hear me. 

Too bad about that, because masterful use of language is the most reliable leveler of that unfairly slanted playing field you so often hear about. The Rap industry aside – and we can only hope and pray that it soon steps there – success in any field or endeavor can only be enhanced and accelerated by exceptional communications skills. Such mastery can never hamper your efforts, but lack of it certainly can trip you up. 

Developing a good vocabulary is like putting together a tool box, and those tools in turn help you build verbal confidence. From there, stringing words together becomes not only a possible mission but an interesting challenge, and from there, communicating your way to better relationships and professional advancement is a logical outcome. Even if one never aspires to stellar achievement in a career field of note, there is nothing like being perceived as bright and articulate to give credence to the things you have to say. 

Thus, I entreat you: Lingophiles and lingophobes alike, please do not dandle (“to delay or protract by trifles”). Devote your next rainy spring evening to a leisurely finger-tip-toeing through your own shelved lexicons, and recapture the joy of your first trip to the dictionary for information as a child. I guarantee that you’ll be edified by your efforts. 

No Merriam-Webster at hand? I have a few nieces and nephews who can loan you one.

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , .

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