Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Those Drops Of Ink That Make The Millions Think...

"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment." --Hart Crane

Oh, where was this splendid quotation when I was teaching vocabulary to my students every Monday for thirty years?  Yet, even if I had typed it in bright red enormous font and put it up on the SmartBoard, the few who read it would have been mightily unmoved.  "Big deal," they would have thought, "I'm not going to be a writer."


But holy crap, I love words.  True, there are those words that I really dislike saying or hearing, as Jared and I discussed way back in September in this post.  Words that bugged us include sketchy, succulent, squat, and pocketbook.   If you recall, we sort of promised that we'd follow up with a Favourite Words post.  TA DA!  Without any further procrastination on Jared's part ado, let's get to it! 

List of Favourite Words:  Jared

1.  Duration. I love the way it sounds. I like the fact that simply saying those three syllables eliminates clunkiness like “length of time”, “time period”, “however long it lasts” and other such ridiculousness. I work in an industry where time periods (durations! See!?) are critical to us, our customers, and our financial well-being as a company. I recently said to a customer, “Assuming you don’t go over the weight restriction and do not exceed the duration that we previously agreed upon, you are done paying us.” This guy says to me--I shit you not--“Boy, I don’t understand a word of what you just said, but I won’t be curing anything.”  OK then.

2.  Blister.  I like that as soon as you say it, the reaction is visceral. Everyone knows what it is, and everyone hates them more than anything in the world. Get a blister on your foot, you’re out for a week before you can regain your normal gait. Try saying it in a sentence like this, using it as a verb: “The Cavs just got BLISTERED by the Lakers last week.” See!?  Now, say that same sentence and sorta let the “BL” sound flop out of your mouth behind a small forced breath.  It almost pops and rolls out of your mouth with a sort of force that I find nice.

3.  Flabbergasted.   No word in the English language does a better job of fitting an emotion perfectly. It just makes me think of someone so confused that their only logical recourse is to weep while they shake their head from side to side, spit flying, spectacles becoming unwitting projectiles. Because at the point where one is in a state of Flabbergast, there can be no words spoken. One’s mouth does not make words when one is in this state, let alone a complete sentence. Plus, I like the way the word feels when I say it. Like, the way it forms in my mouth.

4.  Scrotum.  Hear me out. Think about some of the other awful and juvenile names for that part of the anatomy. Tell me scrotum isn’t better than all of them. You cannot tell me that unless you are a liar, because that is a lie. It still sounds a little bit crude so that if I want to insult my baby brother, I can say something like, oh, I don’t know, “Quit being such a scrotum and pick your team!”  Even better?  Shorten it. Shorten it to “scrot.” With a short O sound. Throw some talc down there;  prevent scrot sweat.  Tell a friend to “quit it or I’ll sock you in the scrot.” It’s very satisfying.

List of Favourite Words: Nance

1.  Alacrity.  This word gets a lot done.  Even its pronunciation conveys its meaning.  It has that flat little short A in the second syllable, followed by the hard C. Does it mean brisk AND cheerful AND efficient AND ready AND willing? Yep. All of that.  It is the caffeinated assistant who is wired and chipper and anticipatory who also brought you in a cupcake AND your favorite kind of pens AND already did the whatevers BEFORE you even asked.

2.  Horrid.  Looking at the word is like seeing a shudder.  It is wide eyes, crawling skin, cobwebs in your face, and all the creepiness anyone can imagine.  It starts with that huffy H and ends with a sudden DUH.  If you say it with the right emphasis, it can even sound like you're throwing up or retching.  Try it.  So good.

3.  Vast.  The irony of a little, monosyllabic word conveying enormity of space is not lost on me.  When I see this word, I always imagine someone sweeping his/her arm wide over a horizon.  The short A becomes automatically elongated by the sibilant S, which softens the T at the end.  I like to use this word hyperbolically, almost exclusively.

4.  Snark(y).  This is a relatively new word, and one I jumped on immediately.  It's another word that packs a ton of nuance.  Rather than load up on adjectives and say, "Verdele was acting smug and gossipy and snotty and bitchy and arrogant and a little snitty," we can just say, "Verdele was snarky."  Also wonderful is that it can be so flexible. Snark can be a verb (Don't snark at me; I was just asking!); it can be a noun (I didn't appreciate the level of snark in your voice, Mona.); it can be an adjective, as used above with Verdele; it can be an adverb (The waiter rather snarkily told us the specials.).  Because of its origins as a tabloid word, it has an admittedly short existence.

Jared and I have a lot of favourite words, but these are a few which we use often and which came to mind immediately.  Now, of course, we must know yours.  What are some of your favourite words?  Do share in Comments!  (And if you want to read some more of Jared's (and my, and our shared) lists, you can always go to our now-hibernating blog Stuff On Our List.  Click here.)

image found here


  1. I have to know why the 'u' in Favourite. Is that your favorite spelling of favourite? Are you secretly Canadian? ;)

    I like the word 'Cattywompus'. I can't help it. I just do. I also like the word 'delicate'. I like how delicate it sounds.

  2. have a friend--a writer--who loves to use cattywompus. Is that the correct spelling? IS there a correct spelling? Hmmm.... Anyway, Jared likes that word, too.

    As to my random use (and non-use) of "favourite", it is pretentious and self-indulgent and because I read a lot of British stuff and have internalized their spelling.

    Oh! to be secretly--or overtly--Canadian! Rick is, and that means the boys are a bit. Can one be Canadian By Marriage (or By Vacationing)?

  3. I would spell it 'cattiwumpus'. But then, I *am* Canadian.
    We can adopt you, honourary Canadian.

    My favourite words are those that are onamoapoetic (If that isn't a word, it should be.) Words like 'babble'. But the context is the important thing.

  4. onomatopoeiac.



  5. Mary--Oh, thank you! Is there a sash or a badge or--oh, if only!--a tiara that goes with being an Honourary Canadian?

    Our wonderful innkeeper in NotL always tells us that all we have to do is tell them, practically at the border, that we want to be Canadians, and we would get citizenship. He is dismissive of Canada's lax policies, I guess.

    Onomatopoetic is correct, as is onomatopoeic, to use the American spelling. My students always loved that poetry term, but hated spelling it. It is an easy term to remember the meaning/usage of.

    As far as cattywampus/cattiwumpus, the dictionary wants me to spell it "catawampus." Hm.

  6. The British spelling I have internalized, and will never give up: theatre rather than theater. (In my misspent youth, I was a theatre major. Switched to history, which was marginally more practical.)

    As to words that I relish:

    Penultimate, for its pretentiousness. It's so much more satisfying than "next to the last".

    Aroma. A smell or an odor might be bad. An aroma is always good.

    Crystal/Crystalline. It sparkles and chimes in my mind.

    Serene. Speaks for itself.

  7. I like words that seem to have no real relationship to the way they are pronounced: epitome, anachronism, Yosemite, hors d' oeuvre, among many others. There is a secret smugness to knowing how these words are pronounced when the multitudes around you do not.

    One of my favorite anecdotes in this vein is about the word "whodunit". I am a big mystery fan and a friend and I were at the bookstore in the Mystery section. There was a sign advertising the latest whodunit and she asked me what a "wad unit" was. I nearly had an aneurism.

    I am a word snob—there are so many interesting, obscure, and complicated words that so completely mean what you are trying to say that I love the ability to know what they mean and then use them in context. The downside is like Jared’s story: many times people look at you like you’re speaking Swahili. A curse of the well-read and champion crossword puzzle solver…

  8. Ooh I love all your favorite words - and the favorites listed in the comments. Here are mine:

    Obstreperous and capricious (both of which I spelled correctly the first time!). I also like serendipity (which kind of sounds the opposite of what it is - serenDIPPIness - ha!).

    I read about something being moist the other day & it reminded me of your most disliked words post. I wish I could remember what it was - I know you would love to read all about it...

  9. Bug--I like capricious especially. I find that I most often use it in a pejorative sense, however, which, now that I think of it, is sad, really. It's such a nice, light word, and it should be used in happy sentences to describe, oh, I don't know, children who are choosing a flavor of cupcake!

    Obstreperous sounds blatty and loud even when you say it. I like that.

    Ugh, "moist." Only good for chocolate cakes. Okay, and jellyrolls.

    LaFF--I always told my students that a good vocabulary was not only the badge of their intellect, but also their most dangerous weapon. Honestly, sometimes it is scary how much I enjoy unpacking mine on some poor, unprepared soul--but only if he/she truly deserves it.

    The Whodunit Story--ouch!

    fauxprof--Crystalline almost made it onto my list for this post. I love the way it conveys precision and clarity.

    Another one: ubiquitous.

    Penultimate, as I'm sure you know, is so often misused. Many people think it means something like "beyond the ultimate." Those of us who know its real meaning are members of a secret club, a la LaFF.

    Some words, like "serene"--I just like the way they look. Like puppy. How cute is that word? I like the way ottoman looks. And I think the word corridor looks spooky. I would never say my house has a corridor. Only haunted houses have them. Like the House of Usher.

  10. Nance, did you know that Ted is Canadian? Well, he IS! He was born in Ontario back awhile ago, and his family came to California a year later. He renounced his Canadian citizenship (or rather, his parents did it for him) when he was naturalized American. HOWEVER, Canada does indeed love and want people to be Canadian, and a few years ago, they changed their citizenship rules so that ANYONE with a Canadian birth certificate (which Ted has) is automatically a Canadian Citizen, no matter what else may have happened in the meantime. Wow, huh? Also, Ted's family was just going there on vacation way back when, and his mom said to the border patrol person that she WISHED they could be there to live instead of to visit, and BAM the next thing you know, his father was a surgeon in Ontario, and they were all trying to adjust to the climate change from Guyana (South America) to Ontario (COLD!). Of course, his father was already a surgeon. They're not insane, and don't let random immigrants operate on people. I don't think.

    I don't know about the dictionary spelling of Cattywompus. I like my way better. Perhaps this is why the only accomplished speller in our household is Maya. Ted's confused from his year in Canada, and I prefer my own way of doing things.

  11. Ubiquitous almost made my list. It is truly one of my "favorites".

  12. I like all the words that have been mentioned. I also like majestic and exquisite, though I almost never use them.

    Plus, as a trombonist, I have a special appreciation for loud and blatty.


  13. Jazzbumpa--I like the British pronunciation of exquisite, with the emphasis on the first syllable, EXquisite. Blat/blatty is a great onomatopoetic word. I need to start using it more.

    j@jj--Those Canadians--they are so international. I swear that every Canadian I know or have met has lived in some other exotic locale or travelled extensively. Another reason to love them.

    I knew Ted and I shared a birthday, and now that you mention his Canadian-ness, it rings a wee bell way off in the back of my head. At any rate, my jealousy burns. I feel like I should be able to study up and pass a test to get dual citizenship or something. Can I just claim to know Ted? Or Mary G?

  14. Alacrity is a great word: crisp and packs a punch. Has a nice Dickensian ring to it for me. And Jared's "blister" used as a verb is another powerhouse.

    I, too, enjoy words that sound like what they are. Lately I have started using "kerfuffle" for that reason. Maybe also because of kerfuffles happening more in the workplace, I dunno.

  15. Ortizzle--I like kerfuffle when it trivializes the ado made about something. As a matter of fact, I like other "-uff" words, too, like "scuffle" and "fisticuffs." They make me laugh. I used to use them in class all the time to sound like a very old Victorian lady on purpose. i.e., "Now kiddles, go get your vocabulary books like ladies and gentleman. Please behave, don't get into a scuffle." etc. I loved using old words like these to throw off slangy conversations, too. If one of my kids was talking about a big conflict, for example.
    Kid: Man, they was about to th'ow down and get to it!
    Me: Oh good heavens! Don't tell me fisticuffs were involved!
    Kid: They was--huh? Naw, man Ms. D. Ain't no cops there with no handcuffs. They just was fightin'. It was done before no cops come.

    (Sometimes I miss it just for the Entertainment Value.)

  16. *Loud guffaw.* There's another "uff" word for you. I would love to have been in your classroom for high tea!

  17. Love these word posts! You are your mother's son Jared!

    Duration is a nice word. Never really thought about it. But your customer scares the heck out of me!

    Nance! I have the same sweeping arm vision with the word vast! Amazing! : )

  18. Lisa--Oh, how fun! I often associate words with visual images. Glad to know others do too.

    Jared often sends me stuff his customers say. It's hilarious (and scary and sad). When you deal with the public, you get a great deal of variety in communication, let's just say that.

    Ortizzle--Or High Coffee, LOL. My cup was everpresent.

  19. Nance: in re "Vast"... my most wonderful friend Thomas relates this tale: In the misty memories of his late adolescence, he found himself silently admiring Nature's glory from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Anon, an ebullient mid-western family noisily approached the same Rim, and the father of this brood loudly declared, "This... is Truly Vast." Whereupon, my friend Thomas rebuked him, "No, it is truly only Half Vast." and walked away. True story.

  20. One of my favorite words: "demeanor", because of how I learned it. My fifth grade vocabulary class, taught by Marsha Norman (yes, THE Marsha Norman, of "Nite, Mother" fame; I am a name-dropper, and I know how Mogen David wine gets sold), who offered this Audio Daily-Double usage clue during a quiz: "The older you get, demeanor you get." Also true story.

  21. Joseph--Hi! Nice to see you here. I love both of these stories, esp. the one for vast. Your usage of the word "ebullient" reminds me that I love that word, too.

    Hope you are well. Tell the missus I think of you both often.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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