Last week I apologized to reader Rose Browning, who wrote a very nice letter about a previous column on the subject of words. Sadly, I wrote that column in May and didn’t get around to replying until now, thus the apology.
Mrs. Browning, a teacher who went over to the dark side (administration), clearly loves the English language, or is at least greatly amused by it, and gave me several examples of why. She’s a master, while I’m a novice, but by the time this is over one of us will eat our words. (Not really – I just wanted to use that expression.)
I mentioned the response I got on my first column, from friends of mine at a web site called LiveJournal. Here are more examples of their favorite words:
Willow_25 likes “ladle”, because it’s fun to say (it is! Say it with me.); “cumquat”, “another of the all-time greats”; “dancing”, because it looks graceful on paper; as well as “gazebo” and “pagoda” – “pretty words for pretty buildings”. I particularly like gazebo. You can’t say “gazebo” without wanting to dance around in one like that silly kid from “The Sound of Music”. (Actually, I don’t recall if she was in a gazebo. It was some round building – what do I know? They were really speaking German, anyway, and so avoided this whole mess.)
Kazzy_cee (now, there’s a name!) likes “feisty”, a word that stands up for itself. She also appreciates how effectively one can shout “bollocks”, which is an English swear word and can I say that here?
Gillo claims to use “onomatopoeia” several times a week. That describes a word or words that imitates the sound it describes, such as “click”, “meow”, or a favorite of mine from the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: “bleugh!” You had to be there.
Gillo also likes “litotes”. I so had to look that one up, and I think it applies to our discussion about words: It’s a “figure of speech in which a speaker, rather than making a certain claim, denies its opposite.”
Huh? Yeah, me too. For example, instead of saying someone’s attractive you would say she’s “not bad to look at”. An example from the Bible is when, instead of saying a city is impressive, the words used are “no ordinary city”. See? The Bible says so. A more common example is “That was no big deal”, and one I use often: “That doesn’t surprise me”.
Yeah, Gillo’s a teacher – how did you know?
Gillo also mentioned “bollocks”, as well as another English curse word that’s just a bit too … um … cursey for me to print here. She describes it as another word for politicians, but that could be any curse word.
3goodtimes (no, not a typo) mentions a certain word … um, the technical word for a part of the, er, male anatomy, which begins with “P” and that’s as far as I’m going. Her point was that it’s such a ridiculous sounding word that she’s never successfully said it aloud without giggling, and I can only hope she doesn’t teach sex education.
She mentions several other words, including “symbiotic”, “Purple”, “drunkard”, and “orangutan”, because of the way they sound. More specifically, she said “banana” and “garage” are funny when spoken with a British accent. Having heard a Brit say “garage”, I’m inclined to agree.
Her favorite: Hatsumomo. “Say it ten times fast.” Ha – say it three times fast. Or just once! I don’t know if it counts, though, being a person’s name.
Cbtreks thinks “fisticuffs” is funny, along with “apple”, and “pants”. I know some of those don’t seem too unusual, but how many of us take time to really think about how the words sound as they’re coming out of our mouths? On the other hand, she confessed to not having had any sleep when she came up with those. When I’m groggy with sleep (groggy – there’s a word), everything seems either funny or annoying.
Another word Cbtreks mentioned is “callipygian”, and if there’s another appropriate word for this discussion I don’t know what it is. Callipygian means “having well-shaped buttocks”. So you can not only laugh at the word and it’s meaning, you can also giggle over “buttocks”.
Cbtreks once posted a long Star Trek related post in which she discussed the nature of Vulcan pornography, using words such as “connotation” and “denotation”, which means she’s either the go-to person on the subject of words, or you should take everything she says with a grain of calcium chloride.
For the final word on this subject, I go back to Willow_25, who blames another LiveJournal user – ked9516 – along with the poet T.S. Elliot for her continued look at the subject. Speak these words slowly, out loud:
“Geranium.” Which, by any other name, would be less silly.
“Ladle.” You have to dip down to get to that one.
“Liederhosen.” People still wear those, you know.
“Donna Shalala.” Should you make fun of someone’s name? For our purposes, yes. But that’s a slippery slope, after all – start with one silly name, and before you know it you’ve covered half the population of the United States and everybody in the Scandinavian countries. That could get me into a pickle.
Pickle! Say it slowly.
You know, looking back over these last two columns, I’m wondering if Mrs. Browning would really want me to connect her name with this questionable hoopla. I’m not sure what would be worse: the puns or the dangling modifiers.
But then, as Johnny Carson once said, dangling modifiers are no problem: he just wore a long coat, so nobody would notice.