Word Girl on the Loose

“I can see you’re a word girl,” a friend said to me recently.

I had noticed his login name, bodisatvs, and asked him if his secret nickname was Bo and he didn’t like ATVs.

He told me that in fact, he wanted to use bodhisattva as his login, but that was taken so he had to settle for something else.

Of course, I then had to look up “bodhisattva,” which I knew was a Buddhist term, but couldn’t remember what it meant. According to Tibetan Buddhism, bodhisattva is a being who is motivated by compassion to focus on others’ welfare and enlightenment and help all get to Nirvana. Cool!

He’s right that I’m a word girl. I hear a word like bodhisattva, and I am immediately intrigued by the letters and sounds, and have to know what it means. Thank goodness for google and online dictionaries!

Most writers have this odd fascination with language. We love plays on words and to banter with people who like plays on words. But we can also be insatiable editors—

when I see a word misspelled on a menu or a sign, I have almost a physical reaction—“How could they not know it should be whipped cream, not whip cream?” Or that they shouldn’t write about their fudge cake, “Your going to love it!”

I admit it—I’m a word-dork. (Or should I say word-nerd?)

While I’m confessing, I will admit that I’m in love with some words. There are a select few I just love to say, that I deeply appreciate they are even words to begin with. But I’m not the only loony one. There’s actually a web site where people post their favorite words and explain why they like them.

The number one word on my list? Archipelago.

Archipelago! Just say that word, är-ke-pe-le-gō, let the syllables fall out. How beautiful! My son had archipelago as a vocabulary word a few years ago. It means a stretch of water with a smattering of islands in it (note that smattering is also a great word!). But doesn’t archipelago sound decidedly royal? It actually comes from Italian, which explains the beauty of it—it originally meant “chief sea.”

Sure, you may have difficulty working archipelago into everyday speech, but you can use it as a metaphor to mean something resembling an archipelago. For example, did you know that in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, we have an archipelago of 75 parks?

Favorite word number 2 on my list is quinoa. Quinoa is a new one, since I have been unable to eat gluten and am exploring everything one can use to make bread and pasta (aside from Styrofoam and cardboard). According to the dictionary, you can pronounce it like it looks, Quin-oah…but the favored pronunciation is kēn-ˌwä, as in keen-wah. How cool is that, to see Quinoa and be able to say KEEN-WA!

Quinoa is an annual herb of the goosefoot family that is cultivated especially for its starchy seeds. Now, that definition, in and of itself, is cool. What exactly is the goosefoot family? Ever hear of that? I haven’t. But I like that quinoa has something to do with the goosefoot family. They just sound related.

You must admit it’s simply not as exciting to say, “I’m having spaghetti,” when you can say, “I’m having quinoa!”

Now, if you think I’m just crazy, here’s another great word for you—defenestrate. Did you know there’s actually a word that means to throw something or someone out the window?

I’ll leave you with one other great word that’s on my list, one that can be useful in almost any situation. Say you’re stuck in a moment of irritation or frustration with another person, and you just don’t what to say or don’t know what to do. Instead of walking away or saying something you’ll later regret, you can pronounce with great exasperation, “You’re just….INEFFABLE!”

Ineffable. Indescribable. Isn’t that fabulous?

Handed down through the generations in my family is a tiny a book called The Study of Words, by Richard Chenevic Trench, published in 1911. It was written “for the exclusive use of Grenville Kleiser’s Mail Course Students.” I love wondering which of my ancestors enrolled in a mail course about The English Language—he or she is clearly responsible for my current obsession.

The entire book is about the wonderful world of words. The author, an Anglican archbishop and poet, said, “As the sun can image itself alike in a tiny dew-drop or in the mighty ocean…so the spirit of poetry can dwell in and glorify alike a word and an Iliad.” Now isn’t that the truth—the beauty and depth of poetry can be found in a single word, or in something as complex as a 15,000-line poem.

Trench also wrote that a young man’s “first discovery of the fact that words are living powers…has been like the dropping of scales from his eyes, like the acquiring of another sense, or the introduction into a new world; he is never able to cease wondering at the moral marvels that surround him on every side.”

I certainly won’t cease wondering at the marvels around me. I can feel the scales dropping off my eyes like potato chips. It’s simply ineffable.

Or should I say crisps?