Sunday, January 27, 2013


I lay in bed early this morning waiting for the cat to settle down and crawl back under the covers.  Five thirty was much too early for me to do anything productive, so I took the time to let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was thinking about how much I love words.  If you don't already "Like" the Marvelous Words page on Facebook, you should click through right now.  Every day I come up with a word that fascinates me.  I learn something and you could as well.

The game "Balderdash" is something I rarely play with friends, because words intimidate so many of us.  If we don't know their meaning, we feel left out of conversations or feel as if we are less than others who might have that word in their repertoire.  In actuality, balderdash is more about lying and bluffing, than it is about knowing the true meaning of words. If you can convince enough people that your word is close to the meaning, you win.  Because my vocabulary is rather voluminous, it's not an onerous task for me to intimidate others.

Well, anyway ... words ...

I grew up with two parents who loved words.  I could walk in on a very heated discussion about something - and when I say 'very heated,' I mean a full-fledged argument - and upon asking what the problem was, it would simply be the definition and implied meaning of a word Mom and Dad might have read or heard that day.  They loved talking about words.  My mother was a walking dictionary.  Her vocabulary was like nothing I've ever known or experienced since.  Dad's was pretty profound, there's not doubt about that. Mom loved to write and some of her most joyous years were when she was taking correspondence courses in English literature from the University of Iowa. She would spend hours writing those papers and when the A+'s began rolling in, she would smile and then quietly leave them around for us to discover.  They both read voraciously.  My family thinks I consume books, but again, nothing like Mom.  Dad was always intimidated by how quickly both she and I read, but every evening he had a book in his hands when he was able to be home and in his comfortable chair.  He read during the day as he prepared for sermons and then he spent every week writing something that would be heard by his congregation.  He had to ensure his words were correctly used and took great care to craft a piece he would accept as excellent.  Because, heaven help him if he made a mistake.  Mom would wait until he was home for lunch and in the safety of our house, but she would let him have it.  And they would be off again on another search for the true meaning behind a word.

Mom was so comfortable with words that she made them up or twisted them to suit her purposes.  Because of her vocabulary, the three of us kids never felt safe when using a word we didn't see in print or hear from others.  I often embarrassed myself when using one of her words in public.

I was in second grade when I used one of our family's words in public.  I had never heard the word 'fart.'  In our house it was called a 'foo-foo.'  I used the word with my classmates and after the initial shock and attempt to understand what it was I was saying, laughter and finger-pointing was the next exercise in embarrassing me.  It hadn't occurred to me that my parents would do something like that to us, but of course they didn't want us saying something as crass as 'fart.'

Mom liked to pronounce the silent 'k' in words.  A knife - was 'kuh-nife,' and Fletcher Kneble, the author, was pronounced with a hard 'k.' It didn't even occur to me to correct myself one night in front of a handbell choir I was directing.  I wanted to sound intelligent as we were talking about books we had been reading and out it slipped.  The ladies looked at me and one had the temerity to say, "did you mean Neeble?"  Oh yeah.  That.

Think about the word rhinoceros.  If you are like most people, you immediately recognize that the accent is on the second syllable:  rhi-no'-cer-os.  However, if you use the condensed version of the word - rhino, the accent is on the first syllable:  rhi'-no.  Well, of course Mom thought it was funny to twist the word up a little bit and when saying the entire word, she would pronounce it with the accent on the THIRD syllable:  rhi-no-sor'-us.  Or ... as we got used to saying - rhi-no-sore'-ass. To this day, if you ask me about that horned mammal, I will have to take a moment before I pronounce the word because of her influence.

Several years ago, I was working as the Communications Director for a church and shared an office space with a friend.  One day, we were discussing how impossible it was to get some program or some person or whatever to move forward.  I  mentioned that we were 'stall-foundered.'  He looked at me in confusion.  Now, he is a bright young man with a pretty good vocabulary as well and felt confident that he could challenge me in my word usage.  He asked what I had said and I repeated it.  We were stallfoundered.  "Diane, that's not a word."

Of course it's a word! It's a word that Mom used over and over.  It was a very familiar word ... to me.  Oh no.  She'd gotten me more than twenty years after she died, hadn't she!  And yes, to be sure, there is no such word.  There are two words she combined to create emphasis, but that word doesn't exist in any dictionary.  I will still use it, but at least now I won't insist that it is real.

She twisted words and combined others, sometimes just making up entirely new words.  The word 'nammynools' was one she created when we were children and she got tired of listing through every animal's name in the house, then each child until she got to the right one.  Every living being in her care was one of her nammynools ... a complete twist on the word animal.  I liked that one and trust me, I never believed it might be in the dictionary. But, it's mine now.

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