Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oh, Tempura! Oh, Morays!

Over the course of years as a browser of dictionaries and collector of them, you have taken a liking to some words which you attempt to use because their mere sound or their composition of metric feet give you idiosyncratic pleasure.  There; you’ve done it—used a particular word that affords you pleasure:  “idiosyncratic.”

You are also fond of and go out of your way to use the word “tantivy,” mindful that editors in venues where you are not much apt to be edited show a special resistance to the word.  “Gravamen” is another word you came upon while editing the mercurial and flamboyant San Francisco attorney, Melvin Belli, the so-called “King of Torts.”

In more recent years, it pleases you to use a word the spell-checker on your computer fails to recognize.  The history for this resides in you having at one time been a dreadful speller.  Now you have advanced to the point of being a speller of average ability, your interests in word origins adding if not a logic factor then surely a memory factor, which is to say the result of looking to verify the correct spelling in one or more dictionaries.  Nor does it hurt that your interest in crossword puzzles is acute.

This is to be sure an idiosyncratic way to acquire a vocabulary, even more so to acquire a working vocabulary as opposed to such words as “zarf,” which you consider, however valid a word when it comes to discussing Russian tea urns, a Scrabble word, even more effective when the Z can be placed on a triple-letter score.  Given your passion for crossword puzzles, you are delighted in similar fashion to know the word, the language or origin, really, for the word “bungalow.”  With superb tantivy, you write the letters H-I-N-D-I within the available squares.

With all this vocabulary acquisition and resulting memorization of the spelling of so many words, you are not surprised to notice another quality resonating within.  There are words such as “that” which you will go out of your way to avoid using, and phrases such as “at all,” to which you have developed antipathy, and “to say the least,” which has begun to sound alternately dumb and pompous, in no particular order.

You are in dead earnest in your intentions to avoid beginning sentences with the word “it,” because to do so later means you’d have to explain the source of origin of the it in question.  Beginning sentences and paragraphs with “it” has come to demonstrate to you a remarkable laziness in allowing subjects and objects to become transposed or, worse, confused.  You’d been vaguely troubled when you first learned it was the best of times and the worst of times because you’d had to trace back to the source of when those times were and given your age at the time and your relative threshold of impatience, it is a wonder you continued reading after wondering aloud what the best of times and the worst of times were in actual chronology.
There are issues with such weasel words as “very,” and “somewhat,” and “just,” not to mention “suddenly,” “nearly,” and “probably” because their meanings are never as clear as you’d like them to be.  Forget about “at that moment,” and “as the saying goes,” or “as they say.”

Nor are you a fan of the Internet Morse Code, in particular LOL, which is, to your dismay, listed on page 1032 of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition, and IMHO, which is on page 878.  Oh well, such is the nature of our language; Darwinian in its evolutionary skills.

You have long since given up trying to Hector your students from a syntactical equation in which like = as, although you do persist in watching for such behavior in your own prose.  This is not from any sense of sacredness or, indeed, moral high ground, rather that your sensitivities were trained to hear the misuse of like for as and as for like in the same manner many regard the squeaking chalk on the blackboard.

You are not sure of the origins of Hectoring as a verb.  You could and will look it up in AH5.  You’re pretty sure it was not the Hector of The Iliad; he didn’t seem the type to do such things.  But that goes to show you; AH5 suggests it was, indeed, that, Hector, heroic, but also swaggering.  O tempore!  O mores!

Oh, tempura.

Oh, morays.


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