Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lots of $10 words

When I was growing up, I read all the time (big surprise). I didn't read anything heavy, unless you consider Nancy Drew and the Baby Sitters Club heavy, but I unconsciously picked up "big words" from the stuff I read. Or at least, they were big words to my fellow second-graders.

So then I'd use the big words in coversation...and promptly get made fun of by other kids. Or get blank stares. And it was awkward. Eventually, I started censoring big words out of my speech so I'd look less like a giant dork. (oh internal editor, you started so young.)

Big or unusual words can be alienating to people, which I totally get. And if somone doesn't understand what you're saying, you're not communicating effectively. My ancient Beginning Reporting professor used to always tell us not to use a $10 word when a 1o-cent one would do.

But words are just so...fun. More weird = more fun.

My all-time favorite is defenestrate. It means to throw something (or someone!) out of a window. And I've never been able to use it in conversation. Which is sad and unfortunate because I really want to.

Last week I came across this BBC News article with a list of 50 Favourite Words people sent in. Some are really obscure (Omphaloskepsis? Syzygy?) and some aren't (spelunking, discombobulated, sepuchral), but the whole article is totally worth reading. Defenestrate was No. 1 (!)

Here are a few of my other favorites from the article, either because they sound cool or because they're actually kind of useful.

quidnunc: someone who gossips, a busybody. When my friends and I get together, we turn into a bunch of quidnuncs.

pusillanimous: lacking courage or strength of purpose. I think this word is meant to be hissed, and nastily: "My exhusband was a pusillanimous loser!"

susurrus: a soft murmuring or rustling sound. Say it out loud. It sounds like leaves blowing and scraping against each other--totally cool. (Big Dork Alert:) Also kind of sounds like when Lord Voldemort speaks in parseltongue, the snake language, in the Harry Potter books.

floccinaucinihilipilification: the act of judging something to be worthless or trivial. Also apparently one of the longest non-medical words in the English language. Please don't ask me to use it in a sentence.

tatterdemalion: someone with a tattered, messy appearance. Sounds nicer than just calling someone a hobo or a homeless person. "Floor it, Edna! That tatterdemalion is attempting to wash our car windshield!"

sesquipedalian: given to using long words. "Being currently without adequeate funds is a sesquipedalian way of saying you're broke." "I temporarily gave up my sesquipedalian ways in third grade so people wouldn't call me a dork. Now I use words like sesquipedalian and I don't care. Sesquipedalian. Sesquipedaliannnnn!!"


Casey said...

I have NO idea how to even pronounce those words let alone use them correctly!

P.S. I read all of the Nancy Drew books growing up too, starting with the really old hard back ones through the case files when she and Ned FINALLY hooked up. But, Sweet Valley Twins were my favorite I think (Babysitters Club was a fav too).

cerrissa said...

here's a couple of words for u that were brought up in convo this weekend by a guy who said he let a literature phd review his grad school admissions paper.

infelicitous and maudlin

the phd guy said he hoped he wasn't being tooo harsh. my friend was like, "i don't even know what u r saying! how can i take it harshly?!"