It’s time for another Friday Word of the Week. I started this topic to help myself learn more words and to give myself motivation to expand my reading and put more challenging authors into my reading circulation (Hello, Nabakov!). I also found that the intense focus on a word helped me truly learn it in a more complete way than simply looking it up and trying to remember it.
In this journey so far, short as it’s been, I’ve learned some brand new words and explored the origins of familiar words. There’s a third kind, however, that needs to be included as well: words that I recognize and should know, but whose definition, for some reason, escapes me. These are the words that prompt me, when I see them, to think, “Oh, I know that word. It means…um…uh…oh yeah, it’s about…Okay, fine, fine! I’ll look it up. Crap.” I trot off to consult a dictionary. What usually happens next is a sharp slap to the forehead and an exclamation of “Well, duh!” And then comes the forgetting. Lather, rinse, repeat. Several times. 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.
The semester draws to an end in less than 2 weeks. It’s so close I can taste it. It tastes sweet.
But I’m not there yet. I type this from under a mountain of research papers waiting to be given a grade that is surely going to be lower than most of the students believe they deserve. “I’m sorry, there will be no A’s simply for effort in this class. You’ll actually have to write well in order to earn an A.” Lessons go unlearned, expectations go unmanaged. The papers will be stained with my tears, to be sure. Possibly some sweat. Definitely no blood. Most likely either coffee or bourbon.
NB: The spell checker inexplicably wants to turn ‘unmanaged’ into ‘unman aged’. I don’t even know where to start on that one.
I should be in bed.
Until I reach the sweet oasis that is summer break, I offer an interesting phrase that I learned from students this week: macking. I’m sure I have deep and profound thoughts about the etymology and sociolinguistic development of this word, as well as some superficial thoughts about my vanity over feeling old because all the slang has gone and changed on me, but as I mentioned, I should be in bed. So that’s where I’ll be. I’ve given you a topic. Discuss!