Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Top Ten Words I Found Down the Back of the Sofa

 I love a good top ten list and more importantly, search engines love a good top ten list, so I have compiled my own catchy countdown to draw the masses away from the mainstream Top Ten Movies, TV Shows and Celebrity Arse Cracks and back to the mothership that is the English language. This is Action 159 (Clause 12) of my cunning manifesto to take over the world with a dictionary in one hand a mug of peppermint tea in the other.
But first let me take you back a bit …

To my shame, as a child when reading, I was a skipper rather than a looker-upper, because who has the time to pull out a dictionary for every unfamiliar word when you’re a) immersed in a great book and b) more than capable of inventing a definition for the word using its sound and context? But this is where I had been going wrong; this is where mistakes are made from which one might never recover. For example, who knew the words demotic and demonstrative had absolutely nothing to do with demons? Who knew ‘bucolic’ was neither a disease nor a vegetable? Who knew a ‘sibilant’ wasn’t a robotic, mutant brother?

So, in recent times, I have treated mystery words with a little more respect, especially as it is impossible to skip words in conversations with learned colleagues who have never missed a dictionary call in their lives, and making up my own definitions leads only to embarrassment – a despot is not served for pudding, Dada is not mama’s partner, a filigree is not an accommodating horse.

Several discoveries have emerged from my rehabilitation from crimes against language; the first is a realisation that there are literally words for everything. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but now I am committed to learning the meaning of every single word in the English language, I am convinced that many words are surplus to requirement. Interlocutor: a person having a conversation. Do we really need that one? Sonorous? I have given this word so many different meanings over the years and now I discover that all it means is deep and full. Call me old fashioned, but we already have two words for that: one is deep and the other is full. Lubricious (nothing to do with the joy of Durex Play): the simple definition of this is lewd. What I’m realising is that I should be in charge of giving words their definitions. I would be so much better at it than the joker who decided that a wonderful word like nebulous, a jewel of the OED – neberendingfabulousness – should simply mean vague.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, or cataclysm and monochrome (which actually means disaster and black and white, but let’s not Serra (Greek dance) with semantics). I love words; of course I love words. I have always loved words; I work with words; I would eat them for dinner if I could. So you won’t be surprised to find that as I worked through my blind spots I uncovered more than the odd word that made me smile. And so was born my top ten words found down the back of the sofa. I suppose I only figurative found them down the back of the sofa (or I literally found them down the back of the sofa if you’re a young person gamely determined to use the word ‘literally’ in literally every sentence and hang the consequences – I literally salute you). Enjoy …

I include this on my list not for its meaning but because I don’t think I have ever heard it spoken, although fiction writers seem to love it. Desires and unpleasant feelings are always being assuaged, but I’m still not sure I know how the word would feel in my mouth should I need to get my assuage on.

We’re just warming up, so another fairly straightforward word, but this one seemed to appear from nowhere one day. I simply hadn’t heard of it, but then it was in every single book I read. Isn’t it strange when you learn something and then it’s suddenly everywhere although you’ve never heard of it before? It’s as if the world gave birth to it at the exact moment I discovered it. Patina: the green film found on bronze.

Now we’re cooking with gas! A student of butterflies and moths.

What can I say? I’m a childish girl-woman. This word isn’t an adjective relating to a popular coffee house chain, or a projection you would find on an accountant’s spreadsheet; it simply refers to something that causes constipation. Ha! It’s such a benign- and innocuous-looking word … and I thought I had heard of all the toilet-related words that existed.

Just look at it! It’s ugly but beautiful at the same time; awkward but self-contained; harsh, almost violent and then peaceful in the last few syllables. The shape of this word tells a thousand stories and takes the tongue on journeys previously untraveled. And its meaning? Fruit-eating.

This is included because I previously only knew the words xenon, xenophobia, Xerox, Xmas, X-ray and xylophone beginning with X. But X has far more to deliver than this: xenogamy, xenoglossia, xenopus, etc., etc. I feel as if I have never lived when I look at these words. My number five simply describes a person with light hair and a fair complexion.

If assuage was chosen because I didn’t quite know how it would feel in my mouth, I have chosen fecundity for the exact opposite reason. I know how it feels and it’s positively filthy. Say it out loud, savour the syllables – fe-cun-di-ty. How isn’t this a sexually explicit swear word? Disappointingly, it simply means fertility (for which we already have a word, which is fertility!)

This is a physical object or design which is made to resemble another material. That sounded quite complicated when I looked it up, but it’s really simple. For example, when you use an app that’s designed to look like something that exists in the real world (a computer keypad, a bookshelf, pages of a notepad), this is skeuomorphic. I’m not sure why this word appeals. It just does; perhaps because I only discovered it a few nights ago and it still has that fresh and exciting glow.

Proving conclusively that there is a word for absolutely everything, this simply means to throw someone or something out of a window. I love that it is clean, succinct and specific. This word can do no wrong in my eyes.      

And at Number One
This word absolutely stole the show for me for its awkward and unusual positioning in the sentence; the very knowledge that this word exists makes me smile most days. It is an adjective meaning ‘at the point of death’. So, for example, a slaughterhouse din might be a cacophony of moribund squeals. A man with his head in a guillotine might have moribund thoughts of a better life where his head hasn’t ended up in a guillotine. Love it!

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