Saturday, December 1, 2007

Words, Mere Words

Chances are you are finding these words in a newspaper, on my blog, or inscribed on a roll of toilet paper in a bookstore restroom (my first draft). In any case, you are a consumer of words.

Look at you go, you word consumer! You just continue to gobble them up, this very instant, zooming from paragraph to paragraph like it's nothing.

Where is your conscience?

America is already the most consumptive society in human history, even without your gluttony. Do you know how many Africans would kill for the same supply of words you digest in two minutes on the commode?

There's no disputing it: we take our words for granted. In fact, some book I saw said that only 1000 words make up 90% of all writing. Worse yet, these are lame, boring words, like “paragraph” and “conscience.”

I will now make it my mission to promote appreciation and understanding of obscure, under-appreciated words.

Many of the rare jewels of our language are fun to utter, and you can drop them into conversations to make yourself sound more interesting and credible.

Take bludgeon, for example:

“Dad, I don't know how to tell you this, but I was driving a little too fast and I bludgeoned the car.”

“Wow, son. That's quite a vocabulary you have there. I'd be impressed, except 'bludgeon' means to beat something with a club. Come closer and I'll demonstrate.”

Another word that will help you win friends, and score a lot of points in Scrabble, is coccyx (which means tail bone, but sounds like something else).

“Sorry, boss, I can't make it to work today. While engaged in a strenuous workout I somehow bruised my coccyx.” Let's hope you still have a job when you get back.

Don't you think all those TV medical dramas would be more interesting if they spiced up their vocabulary? Instead of the word “stat,” for example, how about the word pronto?

“I need 30 cc's of morphine, pronto.”

I became especially fond of the word slaughter when I realized you can't spell it without laughter. This oddball fact just fits my personality somehow.

My personal favorite word of interest is phlegm.

“Hey, how are you today?”

“Not bad, but I have a cold.”

Now try the same conversation, inserting the word phlegm. Notice how the user suddenly becomes less boring:

“Hey, how are you today?”

“Not bad, but I'm drowning in phlegm, which basically means some colony of wretched organisms the size of Don Imus's brain is slaughtering my immune system.”

“Wow, I thought you were going to say, 'Don Imus's coccyx.”

“Yeah, but that would be just wrong, on various levels.”

Then there are words we all use, but we don't really know where they came from, or what they mean. For example, do you know the difference between a couch and a sofa?

A couch, it turns out, has only one end raised and half a back. Most of us have sofas. I have a love seat, ironically named because there isn't room to do anything on it except belch and eat pretzels.

Likewise, a loofah is not a sponge, but a tropical plant used as a sponge (according to the dictionary).

I always knew there was something fruity about that thing my wife hung in the shower.

That's it, I'm out of words for this week. Keep checking back, because at some point I need to discuss important actual words like “mastication,” “kowtow,” and “fartlek.” I'm sure you can't wait.

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