Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “vocabulary”

Word Nerd Confessions: June hi


This month we shall partake in enjoying learning about words that are about words or using words.

1. conlang: an artificially constructed language used by a group of speakers, as opposed to one that has naturally evolved–for example Klingon.

2. linguaphile: a language and word lover.

3. polysemy: a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation. For example, cleave means to separate and it can mean bring together. [semantics can be tricky on polysemic words]

4. sesquipededalian: given to long words.

5. epiphonema: a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said.

6. contramine: a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings–let’s return to cleave, how it can mean “split” or “put together.”

7. breviloquent: speaking or expressed in a concise or terse style; brevity of speech.

8. quidnunc: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip; a gossip or busybody.

9. voluble: characterized by a ready and continuos flow of words.

10. lacuna: a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument.

Words about words. I love how sesquipededalian is the manifestation of its derivative. And what about quidnuc? Why doesn’t that one pop up more in more English village novels? I can’t help but be amused that breviloquent is not brief in formation. Definitely not a descriptive of Polonius. It’s also such a score to provide one exemplar twice, as in contramine and polysemy.

Which word is a standout for you?

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Having just enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend (actually it was a gotta-get-outta-the-snow escape) I am relaxed and ready with a new outlook that should see me through the rest of winter. Longer days and bluer skies make a difference in maintaining a cheerful outlook. 

As a celebrant of fresher weather ahead, I’ve pulled some words out of storage that produced a bit a happy when first discovered. 

1. kvell: to be extraordinarily pleased; especially to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family.

2. persiflage: light bantering talk or writing.

3. rax: to stretch oneself, as after napping [nite: it took four times for auto-check that “rax” is the word I actually wanted, not “fax” or even “dad”]

4. prevenance: special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.

5. gallimaufry: a hodgepodge;  humble;confused medley.

6. snarf: to eat quickly and voraciously [I didn’t realize this is a legitimate word–it’s been a part of my lexicon ever so long].

7. deipnosophist: a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.

8. oneiric: of or relating to dreams.

9. trangam: an odd gadget; trinket.

10. flaneur: idler; dawdler; loafer [thus definition doesn’t describe the full concept–go here to discover what a flaneur is all about]. 

Word Nerd Confessions: July


Summer is its own special time, especially July. It’s solidly summer: weather is warmish but not too uncomfortable, events are happening–outdoor concerts, craft fairs, and the like, the lake is tolerable not freezing, school is distant past and not a threat on the horizon.

July requires its own set of vocabulary:

serotinal:pertaining to or occurring in late summer (must be related to serotonin–that feel good chemical in our brain).

phub: to ignore (a person or one’s surroundings) when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device (I admit to phubbing when at the park or beach–tuning out people to cocoon in my little bubble of perceived solitude–is this a bad thing though?).

tzimmes: fuss; uproar; hullabaloo (when temps get too warm crankiness arrives and tzimmes is a fitting word).

ergophobia:an abnormal fear of work; an aversion to work (self explanatory).

benighted: intellectually or morally ignorant; unenlightened (unfortunately, there is evidence of this behavior when out and about during summer, especially seen at the beach–oh my–do my students who are life guards have interesting days).

paseo: slow, leisurely walk or stroll (summer evenings when the temp drops a tad and the sun has just disappeared on the horizon, a paseo along the boardwalk after dinner is a lovely way to start/end the evening).

craic: fun and entertainment, especially good conversation and company (often precededby the–English derived, as in “wisecrack”).

solitudinarian: a person who seeks solitude; recluse (me, that’s me–give me a hammock, a book, and a soft breeze and I’ll be a-phubbing for hours).

deracinate: to remove or destroy utterly; extirpate (related to above as in socializing?)

ariose: songlike (“The ariose breeze filtering through the stand of pines added an extra appreciation of the fine quality of this July day.”)

biophilia: a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life form (but not when they are benighted or phubbing).

sabulous: sandy or gritty (beach wear side effect)

cynosure: something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc. (blue lake, hot day)

pasquinade: a satire or lampoon, especially one posted in a public place (like Taming of the Shrew as a performance in the park–good times having Shakespeare as a summer performance).

joyance: joyous feeling; gladness (that overall summer mood)

hygge: adj.--cozy and comforting; noun–the feeling of cozy and comforting (some may associate this with winter, but being snug in a backyard hammock with a cool breeze playing about is indeed cozy and comforting).

petrichor: a distinctive scent produced by rainfall in dry earth (there is a word for that amazing smell right after the rain hits the hot sidewalk–word nerdiness points!)

Heiligenschein: the ring of light around the shadow cast by a person’s head, especially on a dewy sunlit lawn; halo (you know that photo, the one where you notice that strange glow around the person’s head -“whoa, I didn’t know you were an angel! Look at your halo!)

viator: wayfarer or traveler (got my bags packed and my ticket to go)

vade meecum: something a person carries about for frequent or regular use (a book, of course–summer is prime reading time).

So that’s a batch of summertime words. There are some fabulous ones that I’m determined to slip into casual conversation.

“I see you got your vade meecum ready.

“Wow! Smell that petrichor!”

“Yup, me and the hubs got our bags packed–we’re just a couple of viators ready to hit the road.”

“Nothing like a well-done pasquinade to get a person laughing.”

“These summer concerts have a certain cynosure about them, don’t they?”

What two words are you going to work into a conversation?

Why We Say: Old Words, New Meaning


Immersed in the study of Hamlet, I currently have to pause in our scrutiny of the emo Dane to explain an old word that Shakespeare uses that now has new context. Elizabethan slang is a study in itself. “Get thee to a nunnery” and “You are a fishmonger” as well as “Are you honest?” have a subtext if their own.

Moving to the present–

There are some words that used to mean one thing, however, due to current usage have evolved differently in connotation and denotation. These are standouts from an article by the Mirror:

ADDICT

In Roman times addicts were broke folk given as slaves to the people they owed money to. 

It comes from the Latin addictus, which meant “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor”.

In the 1600s it was used in the sense of giving yourself to someone or some practice.

AWFUL

In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

BROADCAST

It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

CUTE

Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s. 

But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”. 

And, bizarrely, the original sense of “dainty” was “worthy and substantial”.

FANTASTIC

If you’re thinking of telling your beloved how fantastic they look today, think again.

Unless, that is, they look like a Hobbit or an Avatar (whatever floats your boat).

The 14th century meaning is “existing only in imagination”, from the old French term “fantastique”.

It was not until 1938 that the word was first used to mean “wonderful or marvelous”.

MATRIX

You may be thinking of Keanu Reeves in his 1999 hit sci-fi movie. But in reality “matrix” comes from the 14th century French word meaning “pregnant animal”.

It went on to mean “womb or source”. Eventually in 1555 it was adapted to mean “a place where something is developed”.

NERVOUS

In the 1400s a nervous person was actually “sinewy and vigorous” – as the Latin word nervus applied to both sinews and nerves.

By 1665 nerves were better understood and by 1734 the term meant “suffering a disorder of the nervous system”.

By 1740 it meant “restless, agitated, lacking nerve” and it then became a widespread euphemism for mental illness – forcing the medical community to coin “neurological” to replace it in the older sense.

“Nervous wreck” was first used in 1899.

NICE

Derived from the Latin nescius meaning “ignorant”, the word began life in the 14th century as a term for “foolish” or “silly”.

It soon embraced bad qualities, such as wantonness, extravagance, cowardice and sloth.

In the Middle Ages it took on the more neutral attributes of shyness and reserve.

Society’s admiration of such qualities in the 18th century brought on the more positively charged meanings of “nice” we know today.

I won’t even address how “literally” is so wrongly used today. Some pet peeves are best kept quiet.

Word Nerd Confessions: January


I really like the time around New Year’s. Turning the calendar page, fresh start, anticipating what’s ahead, knowing that the midpoint of the school year has arrived and I’m ready to return for second semester.

It’s also a time I feel the need to tidy up: closets, projects, pantry, and my email gets a sound once over. This month’s feature of Word Nerd gets an extra dose of cleaning up. Some of these words have been lingering in the queue for over two years. Time to dust them off and send them out in the bright new year of 2019.

*This became the word one year in my AP Lit class. It found its way merrily into many an essay.

*I do so like this one. However, I feel a bit snooty when I insert it in a sentence.

*A personal favorite. I do so cringe when people say “a small, little”–it’s small or little. And don’t say “very unique” around me either. Yes, real estate blurbs are the worst offenders.

*footle and gleek must be pals

*As a child I remember a comic strip called “The Katzenjammer Kid’s”–they were naughty little trouble makers. Ah, they obviously caused their parents distress.

This word is supposedly obsolete, yet I think it could catch on once again. Bumper sticker stuff: Experience Esperance.

Well, my word closet is a bit less crowded. I hope you picked up a couple or a few new words to carry you into the new year.

Any favorites from the list? As for the usual challenge of creating a sentence with all the words (20!)? Only if you are up for it.

Word Nerd Confessions: December


[somewhat hummed to Tannenbaum]

December. Oh, December. How colorful, your days are bright. With evergreen and flashy lights, your lengthy nights are cozy bright. December. Oh, December. Your passing will soon bring June.

Don’t get me wrong. December is fairly pleasant, considering all the snow that must be dealt with. Decorations, festivities, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Break. I like December much more than January. But that is next month. This month let’s focus on the bright, brilliant, and happy of the Christmas month.

And this last word is to bring in the new year…

Word Nerd Confessions: November


Fall has officially set up its presence. The aspen, birch, and maple trees disrobed within a week’s span with the help of couple of brisk windstorms. Temperatures hover around freezing, and the sun offers minimal light with little warmth and disappears shortly around 4 pm. The preparation for winter is underway. The Hubs threatens to put on the snow tires since black ice is fact of life not to be ignored. I understand his concern, but snow tires seems to invite or acknowledge snow. We already had a flurry of snow that had the grace to be embarrassed enough by its early arrival and leave by the next afternoon.

This month’s words reflect my ambivalence towards fall: do I mourn the passing of summer or prepare for winter with my usual reluctance? Or do I just accept it knowing spring is not that far away?

So–how do you feel about fall?

Word Nerd Confessions: October


No sooner than I share out some of my treasured lexicon than they multiple whilst my back is turned. Scamperous little verbiage. Well, let’s shake out their nest and see what we can find:

bravura

When we jump out and wildly applaud the artist shouldn’t we be shouting “bravura” instead of “bravo”? Hmm, needs investigating…

plantigrade

I didn’t realize we had this in common with bears.

pellucid

Okay, next excellent essay I grade shall have the distinction of “pellucid”–that should rock the writer…

turophile

Cheese, Grommit.

stanchless

Oh, yes. This perfectly describes the high school hallway conversations between classes.

scrutator

I can see why this one is not in popular use.

sennight

Nope. Never heard of this one. Fortnight, yes. Sennight nope. Does the senate meet in a sennight?

 

Another Year of Interesting Words


Keeping track of words learned is becoming as much of a habit as keeping track of books read. Learning words definitely is result of reading books. I wonder if there is a cousin Good Reads tracker app for Good Words yet. No doubt there is. Or maybe the next dot com app millionaire is in the wings. There is a untapped market for word nerds.

My method is fairly Neanderthal. I’m basically in hunter gatherer mode as I set forth daily upon the plains of learning. That is a bit much, isn’t it? Actually, it’s more or less serendipity. When reading, and I come across words of interest, I type them into my phone in my notes under the file Vocabulary. And like the Guardians of the Galaxy Collector, I keep them there so I can view them.  Some are prettier than others, while some are rare and exotic, and some I take out of my collection and begin implementing, realizing their worth increases with continuous use.

Here are some live captures. For interest, I state where I captured the lexical little beastie.

 The Year of Lear by James Shapiro

  • recusant: a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation. [Lots of Catholic/Protestant tussling going on in England around 1606]

The Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion, and Technology by Sarah A. Chrisman

  • quotidian: of, or occurring every day; daily [a 21st century woman choosing a 19th century lifestyle would get used to the daily routine of repetive tasks such bread making]

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. NOTE: as long as keep teaching the novel I keep rereading it, and yet I still find new words. Fascinating.

  • deglutition: process of swallowing
  • celerity: swiftness of movement

Emma (The Austen Project #3) by Alexander McCall Smith

  • impedimenta: equipment for an activity or expedition, especially when considered as bulky or an encumbrance [this one I’m willing to trot out and air as in addressing my students, “Excuse me, your impedimenta is blocking the aisle.”]
  • canard: unproven rumor or story

This next batch mainly derive their existence and capture from the books of D.E. Stevenson. It is an on-going project to read her legacy of 40 novels (give or take a couple of Mrs. Tim’s). She’s primarily writing about Scottish and English life pre-WWII to 1975. It’s been interesting to see which words she favors and which words were in vogue during the span of her long career. She did favor the sprinkling of French.

  • ructions: a disturbance or quarrel [“ruckus” a relative?]
  • pourboire: a gratuity or tip
  • cavil: make petty or unnecessary objections
  • muckle: to cover inanimate objects in glitter in a vain attempt to make them appealing enough to buy [Mike Allegra dislikes muckley Christmas cards]
  • gaucherie: a tactless or awkward act
  • vaunted: highly praised
  • pied-a-terre: a temporary or second residence [very handy for the dismal months of winter glum]
  • arriviste: a social climber, a blunder

Do you collect words while reading? 

A Few Words to the Wise


It’s not news that the American education system is not working well. I came across an article that made me stop and think about whether my own teaching techniques are contributing to the problem. My paradigm got a bit nudged. One thing I do agree with Hirsch is that vocabulary is an important aspect of student success. If you are interested in reading one man’s opinion about how to overhaul the education system I suggest you sit down with a cup of java or tea and take time to peruse and consider. It’s long, but chock full of thoughtful considerations:

E. D. HIRSCH, JR.
The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is a professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia and the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and he is smart. The kind of smart that makes me feel a bit more brainer after reading most anything he writes. You might have heard  of these titles, and even if you haven’t you will want to reflect of this pithy quote:

  paperbackswap.com

amazon.com

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