Opinion / Portfolio

Words, words, words: An ode to the beauty of the English language from a lifelong linguaphile

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” I couldn’t agree more.

Words matter to me. I love the sounds, their endless varieties, the connotations, the richness, the fun. I love that words constantly evolve.

After reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I fell head-over-heels in love with the way the word “nonsensical” sounds. It’s musical. No matter how you try and say the word (happily, grumpily, when you’re sick and it sounds like you have a frog in your throat), the word always sounds good. Say it three times and let the word just roll off your tongue.

Another amazing word is “sumptuous.” Saying it is like eating a juicy peach. You bite into the word, and it’s filled with an explosion of sweetness. It’s a rich word that invokes the feeling of something rich, something luxurious.

Whenever I hear the word “kumquat,” I can’t help but laugh. The word reminds me of something a little bizarre. It’s such a distinct word. Whenever I hear it, I stop and smile and think about summer.

Word choice matters so much in many different situations. Sometimes you want to impress people with your erudition; other times, you just want to be smart. A person can have eleemosynary tendencies or simply be a generous guy. You might masticate your food, but chewing works, too.

Connotations change all the time. “Winning” was a normal word until Charlie Sheen got a hold of it. “Occupy” meant, well, to occupy, until the protestors started camping out. “Change” now reminds me of President Obama. I can’t even hear the word “maverick” without seeing Tina Fey dressed as Sarah Palin.

String together words properly, and you get something magical. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby about Daisy Buchanan “gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.” There isn’t a single five-dollar word in there, but what an image.

William Faulkner wrote, “his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names… filled with stubborn, back-looking ghosts.” Merveilleux! Or at least, wow!

Now listen to Jersey Shore “star” Snooki — who once admitted that the only two books she has read are Twilight and Dear John. In her debut novel, A Shore Thing, she wrote, “He had an okay body… she could pour a shot of tequila down his belly and slurp it out of his navel without getting splashed in the face.”

Or, “Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. A stinky.”

Her words tell you everything you need to know about the self-described “guidette” who lives by the motto “G.T.L” or “Gym, tan, laundry.” Stay away. Far, far away.

Then look at how inventive Mary Poppins was with its song based on “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” How much fun is that word? Plus, if you say it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious. I have that song on my iPod and must listen to it at least once a day. I can now spell that word perfectly backward and forward.

Inventive people don’t stop there. I love “sniglets” (thank you, Mr. Dell’Orto), words that should be in the dictionary but aren’t/ My personal favorite, “destinesia,” is when you go somewhere but, when you get there, you can’t remember why. “Bi-sacksual” means being OK with either a plastic or paper bag at the supermarket. “Bleemus” is the film that collects on top of soup and coffee if it’s left out too long.

William Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 of our common words, and new ones are being coined all the time. To be “plutoed” is to be demoted, like the former planet. A “kardash” is 72 days, like the marriage of Kim Kardashian. Kneeling on one knee, appearing to pray, is now “Tebowing.”

If we think about them and use them right, words can be sumptuous. I’m feeling all eleemosynary inside. I think I might just Tebow.

***

Originally appeared in The Granite Bay Gazette.

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