While it may seem so, given last week’s choice of panopticon, I’m not overly attracted to words that begin with the letter P. I do, however, have a different confession to make about this Friday’s Word of the Week: it’s not a new word. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, and though I did finish reading The Human Comedy(William Saroyan), which is a wonderful book, it didn’t yield any interesting new words. As a result, I’m falling back on a favorite word of mine: palimpsest. I actually learned the word in 10th grade English class, which was, as the saying goes, many many moons ago. At the time, I thought it was just a funny word and so it stuck. It is sort of awkward, with its sudden switch from /p/ to /s/ that makes it feel like a hiccup, and it’s not a particularly handy word that you’d need every day. But I like it, and after 25 years, I finally started to wonder why. (No, as a matter of fact, I’m not particularly quick on the uptake, thankyouverymuch.) Continue reading
I will begin with my foible.
The book I’ve got my nose in these days is The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. I didn’t really expect to find a lot of unfamiliar words, so I thought my word of the week would probably come from some other source. Then, on page 15, I saw this sentence:
“Homer’s music fled before the hurrying clatter of three indredible objects moving across the sky.”
Indredible? At first I thought it was simply a typo and should have been incredible, which made perfect sense in the context. But it seemed familiar, like I should know what it was but couldn’t quite remember. I thought it might be a new word after all, or rather, a word that I had as a shaky entry in my passive vocabulary, but which was trying to make it into active duty. Continue reading
One of the joys of reading is discovering that I still need the dictionary. I seem to have a vocabulary that is large enough to handle most of the words that I encounter in my usual or typical reading material. This isn’t to say that I feel my vocabulary is exceptional; it’s not that shabby, but the truth is that I am probably not reading things that are as challenging as they should be. Either I am wimping out or the author is. Whatever the cause, the result is the same: I generally don’t need a dictionary when I’m reading.
There are, however, some authors who use words that send me racing for my Webster’s. Sometimes it’s just the odd word or two, but there are some writers – H.L. Mencken, for one – that I will not read without easy access to a dictionary. Recently, to my delight, I’ve discovered that E.B. White is another. (Does it have something to do with the double initial, I wonder?) From his essays, I learned what a bivouac is, a word which is fun and interesting, regardless of the fact that I’ll probably never have occasion to use it. But one never knows, right? After all, I did once find myself in a conversation which presented me – organically, with no manipulation on my part at all – with the opportunity to use the Slovenian word for dwarf (pritlikavec – literal translation: “close to the floor guy”), which nearly exhausts my knowledge of Slovenian vocabulary. So there may be hope for bivouac.
And so, in an effort to consciously find more challenging authors and add to my vocabulary in a more consistent, systematic way, I launch a new Friday feature: Word of the Week. Here I will post my favorite of the words that I have learned during the week, whether it be an obscure word from days past, a new idiom or slang term in current use, or something that lives in the middle of these two extremes. I invite any and all contributions from anyone who wants to come along on the journey.