In which I learn some new words and discover that you’re never too old to enhance your vocabulary


Anyone for a long word? Pic credit: Arvind Balaraman, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1058

I learned three new words or phrases this week, simply from lurking about in a discussion on LinkedIn. One member (British) laughingly suggested that an Americanism employed by another member (American) was peculiar to the “13 Colonies”. The American took exception to this, saying the phrase was “fracked”; and the Brit responded he hadn’t meant to offend, it had merely been a “lulzy” comment.

I had to ask for clarification, since I didn’t have the first idea what they were going on about. It seems that “fracked” means bad, not acceptable. “Lulzy” is a contemporary term meaning amusing, jokey. The 13 Colonies reference is to the colonisation of what is now the US by the Brits.

You’d think three new words or phrases in a day was enough to add to one’s vocabulary, but then I had an email from my friend Kim, the one who jacked in her job to go to university, at the age of what we’ve agreed to call 42.

I’m fairly accustomed to Kim’s vocabulary and in my presence it’s been primarily employed in negotiating the purchase of a couple of pints of Gem bitter from publicans, or casting aspersions on left-leaning politics. So it was a cause of astonishment and amusement to her friends when K started her English degree this term and started sprinkling her conversation with words like “ameliorated” and “ethereal”.

Anyhow, Kim’s email said would I mind casting an eye over her latest essay, devoted to an analysis of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. She’s under the impression I know what I’m talking about, having done a degree myself as a mature student. I begged to remind her that I graduated 10 years ago and have forgotten most of what I learned, but it seems a vague analysis from a forgetful OU grad is better than a poke in the eye from a blunt stick, so I agreed to give her Keats the once over.

I was impressed to see that K’s thoughts were now focused on enjambment, synecdoche, caesura and spondees.

A spondee, as everyone will be aware, is a metrical foot consisting of two long syllables, as determined by syllable weight in classical meters, or two stressed syllables, as determined by stress in modern meters. As we all know, it’s unique in English verse as all other feet (excepting molossus, which has three stressed syllables, and dispondee, which has four stressed syllables) contain at least one unstressed syllable.

Synecdoche, as none of us need to be told, from Greek synekdoche (συνεκδοχή), meaning “simultaneous understanding”) is a figure of speech closely related to metonymy (the figure of speech in which a term denoting one thing is used to refer to a related thing). It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.

Enjambment or enjambement is the breaking of a syntactic unit (a phraseclause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses. It is to be contrasted with end-stopping, where each linguistic unit corresponds with a single line, and caesura, in which the linguistic unit ends mid-line.

But you don’t need me to tell you all that. (Thanks to http://www.wikipedia.org/ for the translations.)

Anyhow, I was at a client’s Christmas lunch yesterday and was telling some of the other party-goers about my friend’s impressive new vocab, and it was suggested that we should phone her up and tell her some other long words that she might like to include in an essay. There were some quite intelligent suggestions and I carefully wrote them down on a piece of paper, only for one of my client’s other suppliers to decide there would be more comic value if he were to eat the list – thus enabling him to say that he’d “eaten his words”. Sometimes, respectable media industry types do this kind of thing after an afternoon on the juice of the grape.

He consumed the paper with every appearance of relish and enjoyment, and we promptly forgot the words written on it. We still phoned Kim – it would be rude not to phone a friend after several hours’ reckless drinking – but we found ourselves at rather a loss when it came to thinking of high-brow words at a moment’s notice. Our second list eventually comprised:

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

“Felching”

“Machu Picchu”

and

“Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay!”

No-one was entirely sure whether “rimming” was a real word, but it sounded good so we threw that in as well.

Scarcely adequate in terms of the composition of an academic paper, but Kim received our suggestions politely enough and we all had a good time, which is the main thing. It’s all testament to the entertaining complexity and potential of the English language.

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2 thoughts on “In which I learn some new words and discover that you’re never too old to enhance your vocabulary

  1. kim says:

    I’d just like to say that Sue, (or as we Bristolians prefer to call her ‘the girl who we have agreed to refer to as Sue’), is a talented polymath. Or would that be an instance of tautology? Look that one up!!

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