Sunday, April 5, 2009

They're Only Words....

I am an unabashed lover of language and words. Words are like mini-paintings to me, little nuggets (or capsules or bullets) of whatever emotion you need to convey. They can be elegant vessels of beauty or hateful globules of venom, whichever you want. They can be as focused and precise as a laser beam, all deep rich color and concentrated singularity, or they can be as broad and expansive as a rainbow across a stormy sky. Words are tools that can be used to build or to destroy, with equal facility. They can float and glide across your lips like the breeze that carries the fragrance of orange blossoms everywhere this time of year, or they can be spat across the room like little darts of vengeance and animosity. Here are a few of my favorite words, and some of the reasons why they fascinate me.

"Vituperative" (adj., verbally abusive) - This is one of those words which you can use just about anywhere and not a lot of people will know what you mean but it will sure make you sound intelligent. And in this style-over-substance culture we live in, often appearance will do just as well as reality. You can wildly misuse this word and no one will really notice or care. You can say, "Wow, these fresh strawberries sure are vituperative," and someone will say, "No kidding, try them with whipped cream!" Or, "That dress makes you look really vituperative," and they say, "Stop it, you're just saying that to make me feel good." Nothing is more fun than using an obscure word with a very strong negative meaning and have someone think the exact opposite.

"Desiccated" (adj., dried up, dehydrated) - This is a word that says what it means. It always makes me think of some bleached bones half-buried in the desert dust with the arid, hot wind blowing across them. I remember first encountering the word as a child reading an Isaac Asimov story, where two scientists got into a heated argument and one scientist called the other a "desiccated old fossil." At the time I thought it was the most awesome insult I had ever heard and the receiving scientist would be scarred for life and never recover. However when I used that phrase on actual people they were much less impressed.
USAGE NOTE: Words with a double-c in them should be avoided, e.g., "desiccated", "vaccine" and "saccharine". Words with a double-u in them are erudite and scientific-sounding, like "vacuum" or "continuum". But for God's sake STAY AWAY from words with a double-r-plus-h in them, like "catarrh", "diarrhea" and "hemorrhage".

"Quagmire" (n., a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position) - This is a word with a not-so-nice meaning that sounds like it should be really funny. It almost sounds like it should be "quackmire" and mean a meeting place for a social gathering of ducks. Someday when I complete my transformation into a cranky, ill-tempered old curmudgeon (something that people say will happen in about a week and a half) I'm going to tell everyone my name is Chester T. Quagmire, just to be disagreeable. I really like the word "curmudgeon", too, but we're going to let that one go for now.

"Lavender" (n., a pale purple color) - I like this word because I have so many pleasant memories of childhood connected to it. There was this children's song I learned early in Catholic school that had the words "lavender blue" and "lavender green" in it. I know "lavender green" is kind of nonsensical, but somehow in the context of the song it totally fit. I loved that song because it was one of the few songs the nuns taught us that didn't have some kind of religious reference to it. I also loved "My Country 'Tis Of Thee!" until I learned it was a total rip-off of "God Save The Queen!" As a child when I visited my grandmother her bathroom was a lavender color and she always had a bar of Camay soap near the bathtub. I loved the delicate, wistful floral scent of the soap. I associated it with her and I really loved my grandmother. She also had a bar of Palmolive soap near the sink, which is the only thing that could have made it more perfect. Lavender, the color and the word, is all good to me.

"Pristine" (adj., not spoiled, corrupted, or polluted) - A simple little word with a precise, uncomplicated meaning. Says what it means. All fresh, clean and natural, like a pristine lake or stream, or an unspoiled pine forest. One of my favorite songs of all time is Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle." This song is absolutely pristine and perfect. It also has a line which goes, "tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground". That is awesomely pristine. Some words are just perfect little packages, just the way they are.

These are just some of the words I love, I'll be posting more on an occasional basis as I think of them. Maybe someday I will be known as a desiccated old curmudgeon with lavender underwear caught in a pristine quagmire of his own vituperative(ness). Just thinking of that sentence almost made my head explode but it was so worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment