One reason I’m a writer is that words fascinate me. Better than that, they amuse me, like shiny shapes swirling from a mobile over my playpen.
An intriguing unfamiliar word tweaks my ear or flashes across my retinas, and I think, Ooh, listen! Look at that! I wonder what that means? And Google and I are off down another internet rabbit hole.
My sister, Nancy, taught me the word “widdershins.” I didn’t care what it meant, I just wanted the pleasure of saying it. Widdershins. Widdershins. Turns out it has both a practical meaning and a negative connotation. It’s a direction, meaning “to the left” or “the opposite of the way the sun appears to move,” or “counterclockwise.” (What’s a kid to do with that word nowadays, having experienced only digital clocks?) The negative connotation is that, well, it’s a negative direction – against the “natural” movement of things, like the word “sinister,” which originally had almost the same meaning.
At a wonderful kids’ science exhibit called “Grossology,” three of my grandchildren and I got to learn all about the “gross” icky, sticky, stinky things that human bodies can do. I loved it! We could watch drop of snot drip from a gigantic nose. We got to slide down a twisty fiberglass colon and be defecated out the lower end. My prim mother would have been appalled! And we got to learn the word “borborygmi,” which has both a practical meaning and a positive connotation. Borborygmi are the natural sounds a digestive system makes while it’s doing its job. (“Borborygmus” is the word for a singular sound, but “borborygmi” is more amusing and poetic to me.) Although borborygmi might be embarrassing in polite company (at least after the age of 16 or so), and can result in even-more-embarrassing burps or farts, if you don’t have some rumbling and bubbling going on inside it might mean that things are not well in intestine-ville.
A “katzenjammer” is a hangover. “Tatterdemalion” means shabby or dilapidated. The word “kakistocracy” might come in handy in the months ahead – it means government by the worst persons. A “peripatetic” is a person who travels from place to place; one can chant it while walking: “per-i-pa-tet-ic, per-i-pa-tet-ic.” And the word “ensorcel” seems to contain a bit of what it means – to bewitch.
The other day, looking up the meaning of “amphigory,” I popped down a digital rabbit hole and ran into this book review, written by Robert McCrum, obviously a member of the word-collecting tribe:
“Schott’s Original Miscellany is strangely unputdownable. It is the mother of all miscellanies, aka an amphigory, a medley, a pot-pourri, a gallimaufry, a salmagundi, an omnium-gatherum, a vade mecum, a smorgasbord… Oh boy, but Schott is a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a mad magpie at large in the wide world of facts and words.” (Robert McCrum in The Guardian, December, 2002, a review entitled “God Bless you, Mr. Schott.”)
THAT reviewer, Robert McCrumb, is a man who knows how to play with words!
So it’s time to end this blog post – I’m headed off down another lagomorphic warren entrance to see if I can find anything else written by Mr. McCrum, clearly my compatriot in collecting delicious nomenclature.