Words to Love: Words, Words, Words...
Unlike the Lerner and Loewe song from My Fair Lady, this writer is most definitely not sick of words. I absolutely love them. As Elf would say, they’re my favorite.
I cannot eloquently convey how excited I get when I find the perfect word to describe something. For example, the other day, while out to breakfast with my husband, we were having a conversation about snarky, off-hand comments and how, too often they are mistaken as witty when they are really often juvenile or silly. In the course of the discussion, we were grappling for a word- a word that meant scholarly, that meant learned and well-trained. All those words would have been appropriate, but the real word we were looking for was erudite. It means all those things together, and even deals with the manner in which a scholarly, learned, and well-trained individual comports oneself.
Finding this right word got my husband and I diverted onto another conversational topic. A conversation about words. (If you’re wondering why I love this man so, I offer the last sentence as all the proof you’ll ever need. He just gets what makes my little ole heart flutter.)
Words. The actor Martin Freeman (of Sherlock and The Hobbit fame) is quoted as saying:
At first this statement might seem a bit condescending, but I think he makes a valid point. Too many people associate the use of ‘long words’ with snobbery or condescension. In their defense, I have met many an educated person who will utilize his/her vocabulary in order to make himself/herself seem superior. I hate that. As Bon Jovi might say, you give sesquipedality a bad name.
However, in defense of long words, the thing about our vocabulary is that it is chock full of words that have very specific meanings, and, by using them, we are sifting out the ambiguity so that people can better understand what we’re trying to say. I’m not saying to whip out big words all the time to make yourself look erudite, but I am saying that it behooves us not to forget some of the words in our language.
Today I’m going to share with you a few words that I absolutely adore. Some of them have stories. Others are just words whose meanings, or, on occasion, whose phonetic pronunciation just excite my blood.
Here we go:
The very first time I spent any time with the woman who would become one of my dearest friends, I had just discovered the word sesquipedality. (Thank you, Lauren Willig! And shout out to April for not thinking I was total snob and still wanting to be my friend after I spent so much time explaining why I was so excited about this word.) I was particularly excited about this word's existence because I had ferreted out the meaning without the use of a dictionary, but solely on its etymology. After years and years of being a student of Latin, I was able to break the word down until I understood what it meant: words a foot and half long. In other words, if you are a sesquipedalian person, you use big word. (Hmmm… I wonder why I love this word so much, and why it’s featured on the blog today.)
I found sesquipedalian (and by degrees, sesquipedality) in Lauren Willig’s floral spy novel, The Masque of the Black Tulip:
I was instantly in love, although I'm still unsure if it was with the rather foppish Augustus Whittlesby or his rather florid, alliterative, and impressive vocabulary.
Another word I absolutely adore is jejune. Doesn’t that just sound like something exotic and interesting. That’s the delight of this word. It has nothing to do with anything exotic or interesting. It pretty much means boring. Here are some synonyms for the word: dull, flat, insipid, uninteresting, dry. I think you get the general idea. However, the word jejune when applied, gives whatever seemingly boring situation or personage you're trying to describe a sense of majesty. You might be insulting them, yes, but you do it with such flare, they might forgive you. (There’s also the very real possibility they won’t even know you’re being insulting.)
I came across a Dean Koontz character, child prodigy, Leilani Klonk (tell me that’s not the greatest name… other than the other female in the story, Michelina Bellsong), in his book, One Door Away From Heaven, who has the same amount of appreciation for jejune.
As I mentioned erudite before, I think it deserves inclusion in this collection. I’m including the pronunciation key here because since the advent of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series inspired films, the way erudite is pronounced really sticks in my caw. It’s er-oo-dite, not er-ee-o-dite. However, this is a great word to whip out when you’re talking about someone who is scholarly. Maybe a person who’s wordy. It’s not an insult, at least, I don’t think it is.
This is a word I just like to say, as well as use. It’s funny. It makes me smile. Do any words make you smile when you say them? This one almost tickles my lips when I say it. Piffle. It's a colloquialism, and you know how much I adore colloquialisms (see post here and here). It means foolish or empty talk; nonsense, drivel. Also used as an exclamation or retort to express disbelief or disagreement.
Piffle has some really great synonyms. Balderdash. Malarky. Poppycock. Twaddle. Hooey. Baloney. And, if you’re feeling vulgar, bullsh*it. Now, the next time you feel the urge to call someone out for the the pile of poo he/she is trying to sell you, rather than descend to tackiness, just say, with a smile, piffle.
There are many more words I could trot out as favorites, but that’s all we have time for today. However, I will leave you with a few simple, ordinary, everyday words that I just love to say because they have great internal consonance or they just make me smile: banana, bellybutton, kiwi, stickler, flibertigibbet, l’orange, cappucino (all right, I might like the sound of that one purely because I adore what it is- all that worthy, delicious goodness), espressso (or as we New Yorkers have been known to say- expresso), chai (I’m sensing a theme here. It might be time to sign off and travel down to the Barista Parlor, or, at the least, Starbucks).
What are some words you love, for their meaning or for the way they sound? Please share.