Thursday, February 4, 2010

Words, Words, Words

Without them we’d be babbling incoherently or bursting with ideas in silence. Words are oxygen, sun and rain. Too little and words become weeds. Add a squiggly “s” in front and we have sword. Insert an “l” in the middle and it’s a world. They are my world. I hope I never fall to earth in Czechoslovakia or even Chaucer’s England. Imagine our founding fathers puzzling over the jargon in Meet The Press.

I love the weight of words, their overtones, the baggage they carry and how weary they become or fresh when recombined. Words like any living organism thrive and then die. Think of all those which have been born or revived during our lifetime…rap, outcomes, drones, hard & soft ware, hip-hop, bop, bail out, gay, no-brainer, slam-dunk etc…

Most new words enter through technology or pop culture. Others are coined by journalists or just appear undocumented. You have to admire the folksy ones like flustrated (flustered & frustrated) or bodacious (bold & audacious).

Peggy and I like to mint new ones creating our own private language. Granulations for cereal, glumper for the small dish that holds a used teabag, and middle upness for a fitful sleep. Our favorite is linner which is to dinner as brunch is to lunch.

The OED is as fat as ever. The organism has no shortness of breadth. The 1989 Oxford English Dictionary contains 22,000 pages in 20 volumes with 2.2 million quotations. The word, set, lists 430 ways it is used.

I’m sure most of us have had the experience of looking up a word and forgetting it in twenty minutes. I think I’ve checked the meaning of fungible a dozen times but it won’t stick. Risible, is another one. Dare I use it incorrectly in a sentence and embarrass myself? More likely I’ll try it out on the page where I can’t feel the reader’s snicker.

Serendipity is one of those words that come to us by a circuitous route. It’s the Persian word for Sri Lanka and was first used by a British parliamentarian in mid 18th century referring to a fairy tale, The Three Princes Of Serendip.” It means finding agreeable things not sought for. Other serendipitous discoveries are Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Silly Putty, Slinky and inkjet printers. The phenomena would have been lost without the word to describe it.

Now that you’ve wasted your quality time reading this page you should leave with at least one new word to add to your lexicon or else you will live out your days not only impoverished but also complicit in the death of a perfectly good signifier. The word is, opsimathy. It is probably unrecognizable to Spellcheck having already been consigned to an un-marked grave. It means having come late in life to education. Let that be the last word.

1 comment:

  1. Now you got me thinking about words when I was a slip of a lad and then some.

    Call me on the Ameche, Don't blow your wig, What a crumb, you've got some crust. you and me both, What a twit. I got the kiss off from her, don't be high hat, he took the rap, take a powder, I got squat, shake a leg, I could go on forever but I gotta pitch some woo now.