by Bob Bekins
November 2019
Abacus, accordion, acorn, adz, air-pump, anchor, antelope, armlet, asp, auger, and axle. These are the “a” words that the 114 year old Merriam Webster dictionary felt rated an illustration in their 1905 edition. These have been added recently: adorbs, archicembalo, abba, augmentee, airball, and airbnb.   (note, all of these words had red lines under them when I finished typing just now.)
Interestingly the dictionaries are now including more and more phrases; these represent some of the recent “word” additions to their lexicon. They include: airplane mode, Aunt Tom, air quotes, aha moment, and autogenic training. As a purist, I would say these are not new words but rather new phrases although autogenic also got a redline designation. Apparently my MSWord dictionary has not been properly notified by Merriam Webster. Is there an App for that? In 1905 “apparatus” was listed as a noun and referred to furniture or tools.   Boy, do we have a lot of apparatus now!
“A word is the smallest unit of grammar that can stand alone as a complete utterance, separated by spaces in written language and potentially by pauses in speech.” (Internet definition.) I like the part about spaces and pauses.   In our full-tilt-bozo world people hardly wait to breathe while talking. The tradition in some Native American cultures is to pause between talkers thereby taking time to reflect on what was said. Long pauses are common! Some very useful standalone words are help, stop, push, email, pen, sword, and fuhgeddaboudit. In my writing, I am always curling back my vocabulary from the “four bit words” to the more simple. A four bit word was one that was so rich that it was worth 50 cents, which was big money in 1905. Don’t try to Google anything about “bits” because you will get about 100,000 hits on data bits and computers instead.
Malapropisms are a fun topic. Yogi Berra was famous for them.   He once said, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” He meant electoral votes. Often people will use a fancy word to impress someone and instead end up with a malapropism. For years I used the word anthropomorphic to mean something without a well defined shape.   A friend finally corrected me that anthropomorphic means having a human characteristic. Keep it simple Bob. “That cloud wasn’t in the shape of a giraffe. It was anthropomorphic.” They would then look at the cloud and say, “Well it isn’t shaped like a man.” The conversation would dissolve from there.   Or is it devolve?
We should talk to strangers, and especially to journalists, the way we would talk to a friend.   Fancy words are unnecessary when we are with someone we love. Our language is not going to impress those for whom we care as much as the way we make them feel after we have spoken. I am about as subtle as a brick going through a window sometimes. Or as I would put it fancifully, “My tendency to make the verbiage graceful stands like masonry intruding on an individual fenestration.”   Figure that one out!

Our words matter. With three or four of them, you can make someone’s day or destroy it. How you encourage or discourage a child may stay with them for a lifetime. Choose your words wisely, and you may splendidize another person’s week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s