Readers Pick!

Ah, the joy of words! Looks like I’m not the only one who has the word bug. Turns out many of you have it, too!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you some of my favorite words, in a post called, A Word About Words. And, much to my delight, you shared some of your preferences, as well as a few of the ones you’d like to see get the kiss of death.

I counted at least 40 new words that were added to the list I started. Many of you agreed that “flabbergasted” and “discombobulated” are the cat’s pajamas when it comes to words you love. Here, a few of the words that have you smitten:

Bailiwick, as in: Chasing tornadoes across the Midwest was Uncle Fonzie’s bailiwick. Taking out the trash at Aunt Renee’s behest, was not.

Comeuppance, as in: When, Agatha Dudley, out for a stroll along the Pyrénées, tripped on a compact case she had earlier lost, and fell off a cliff, plunging nearly two hundred feet into the tempestuous waters below, it occurred to little Brenda, that Agatha may have finally gotten her comeuppance.

Penultimate, as in: Trixie Bubbles was about to go on stage, wearing little more than the oversized fan she was carrying, when the director said in a hushed, panicked voice, “It’s not your turn. Your act is the penultimate one!”

Aplomb, as in: Jimmy “The Weasel” walked to his cell, stoically and with great aplomb, amidst the hoots and howls of his fellow inmates.

Juxtapose, as in: Lupita Davenport juxtaposed her need for civility against her boyfriend’s desire to go see the fights.

Canoodle, as in: With his wife, Jodi, insisting they visit her family in Spunky Puddle, Ohio, Carl wondered if it wouldn’t be more to his liking to canoodle on the couch instead.

Groovy, as in: Jayne Starr, a flower child high on life, among other things, in that moment thought that everything was, indeed, groovy.

Slew, as in: There were a slew of reasons why Alberto Phineas couldn’t go to target practice with his sister, Nancy; key among them, that the last time they’d gone, she had shot off his foot in a most unfortunate accident.

Hooligan, as in: It was a frightening turn of events when the hapless hooligan bolted in anger, all because no one at the dinner party would eat his contribution to the potluck: mussel pancakes.

Tomfoolery, as in: The sound of Big Tommy’s booming guffaw, when Little Tommy refused to stop his tomfoolery of playing in oncoming traffic, caused Grandma Tippy to jump in alarm.

As for words you didn’t like? The list was short, with the one mentioned most being, “Awesome.”

Other pet-peeve words included: Like, Plump, Phlegm, Mucus, Reality, Woot, Rural, Care, Nice, Panties and App.

If I left out your word, don’t worry. I will hopefully include it in a future post. For now, it’s your turn. Please take any of these words and create your own sentences. Or add another favorite word to the ongoing roster. I can’t wait to read your contributions!

A Word About Words

I love words. In fact, one could say that, as a writer, I depend on them. For, words are helpful in getting your point across. They’re also good at conveying emotions when looks, alone, aren’t enough. I’ve been noticing, too, that words play a key role in my ever-expanding collection of quotes.

Yes, words are special, despite the fact that they come a dime a dozen and are free to use by anyone with a hankering to speak or write.

Yet, are all words created equal? I think not. For, if you are like most, I’m certain you’ll agree that there are some words you fancy more than others.

Recently, The New Yorker magazine cleverly asked its readers to name a word in the English language that they’d like to see eliminated from the dictionary. The words quickly poured in—everything from “bling” and “swag” to “awesome” and “like.”

Which is why, I’ve decided, rather than focus on words I’d like to see eradicated from the English language (“Tebowing” would be a good start!), I am herewith celebrating the words that I love.

So, a round of applause please for these descriptive words that are, frankly, fun to pronounce:

Tony, as in:  The woman in the silvery stockings and flaming green Bolero jacket, walked confidently, that is, until she slammed into the entrance of the tony nightclub.

Apoplexy, as in: If you tell me one more time that you wish to ride the Matterhorn with my Aunt Viv, I am certain to be struck by a fit of apoplexy.

Conundrum, as in: Whether to go fishing with my cousin, Carl, or hunting with Dick Cheney, is certainly a conundrum.

Lackadaisical, as in:  Newt Gingrich is feeling rather lackadaisical this week, now that he’s quit his presidential run, and plans to wait until next week to begin his latest project–that of colonizing the moon.

Sultry, as in: His intense, sultry gaze aroused in Henrietta a passion that almost allowed her to forgive him for sinking his cuspids into her exquisitely fine neck.

Behoove, as in: It would behoove Jack to think twice about betraying the mob boss, particularly if he had any hopes of keeping his job as a hit man.

Riff-raff, guttersnipes, as in:  Eloise walked gingerly around the riff-raff and guttersnipes playing in the courtyard, in order to let the director know that she was more than ready to bring them in for their naptime.

Discombobulated, as in:  Lupita Davenport was completely discombobulated, for she didn’t know whether to serve her pie, a la mode, or with the ghastly syrup Aunt Bella had brought for the occasion.

Scofflaw, as in:  When Peter Hamilton rushed into the train station, in search of a restroom, he hesitated when he saw one door that read, “Women” and the other “Scofflaws.”  As his debts to society had all been paid, he decisively entered through the door marked, “Women.”

Lilacs, as in: For her Diamond Jubilee, young Henry, who came from royal blood, gathered a bouquet of lilacs for his noble Queen.

Convoluted, as in: The directions to the jailhouse were so convoluted, Kim discarded the idea of visiting her finance, Elvis, and decided she would just wait out the 20-years-to-life sentence he’d received.

Ranunculus, as in: Victor decided he’d pop the question amidst the flower fields, not realizing Kathryn was fatally allergic to the ranunculus, which were in full bloom.

Ne’er-do-well, as in:  Alicia was determined to tell her ne’er-do-well father that dinner was ready.

Flabbergasted, as in:  When Grandma Debbie arrived at the reunion with two leopards in tow, we were all flabbergasted, as no one had realized she was still alive.

Trousers, as in: Detective Nathan was about to finger the murderer at the dinner party, when Joe Knuckles politely asked, “Before you do, would you like to put your trousers back on?”

As for the “winning” word in the New Yorker contest, the word that most felt ought to be forever swiped from the English vocabulary? The answer is:

Moist,” as in, pass me a slice of that delectable, moist cake.

So, how about you? Tell us in the comment section your favorite—or least favorite—words.

Spanish Spoken Here

I entered the New York public school system in 1960, and from the get go, I began my education facing an obstacle, one that I was completely unaware I had. That is, until second grade, when I heard my teacher, Mrs. Green, bring it to my mother’s attention. It seems I was having trouble understanding the lessons and I wasn’t speaking up in class.

Mrs. Green smiled politely as she said this, but then turned decidedly serious. Carefully enunciating her words, she asked my mother whether English was ever spoken in our home.  I cringed. Why was Mrs. Green asking?  Was it my mother’s heavy Spanish accent that was giving us away? I had hoped no one would notice, so it was crushing to suddenly realize our secret was out.

Still, I couldn’t understand why it mattered what language was spoken in our home.  What did it have to do with my ability—or lack of it—to learn? Yes, my parents spoke only Spanish, but I thought my father’s English was quite respectable. He seemed comfortable speaking it outside our home and did so often. If you ask me, he spoke it with a charm reminiscent of Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy and we all knew how well Little Ricky had turned out.

Mrs. Green's Second Grade Class, 1962. I'm in the second row, second from the left.

Though my mother was another matter. She understood English, but went out of her way to avoid speaking it.  Which was kind of a relief to me, as it was mortifying to hear her struggle for the right words.

And here we were admitting the obvious to Mrs. Green, that we lived a double life. English in the outside world, and Spanish at home. Seemed perfectly natural to me. Which made it hard to understand why it was an issue now.

Although, I did recall Mrs. Green once giving us an assignment to write about shops in our neighborhood and I had to write about a delicatessen. Delicatessen? I had no idea what that was, and rather than ask, I just made something up: “The delicatessen is a fine place to shop for delicate things, especially when you’re not in any hurry.” Of course, had I asked, I would have discovered that delicatessens served cold cuts, pickles and the like, and that some people just referred to them as a “deli.”  So maybe that’s why Mrs. Green wrote in my report card,

Language Arts Reading: Monica is reading at first grade level. Monica does not contribute much to class discussions. I am trying to get her to speak more freely. It would help her language skills if she used the public library.

My mother started dropping me off at the library every Saturday morning. I’d make the most of these visits, enjoying story time in the children’s section, then browsing the shelves where I discovered Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobel, and Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. It became a thrill to be in the library, with my own library card, which made me feel very grown up.

Written Expression: Monica has difficulty in expressing her thoughts in sentences. She has learned to use a capital at the beginning of a sentence and a period at the end.

Given how much I love writing, it’s tough for me to imagine I once found it hard to express myself through the written word, and that I was stymied by the proper use of punctuation. Yet, I do remember the sense of doom I’d feel when Mrs. Green gave us writing assignments. My mind would blank and I’d keep my torment to myself. Anything, than have to admit that I was at a loss for words.

I struggled a lot in second grade and there were times I really felt I’d never be more than just average. Knowing that I had a language barrier to overcome didn’t make it any easier, but it did give me new determination.  Thanks to my teacher’s report card, I learned that the key for me was to read and read often, and I’ll always be grateful that Mrs. Green suggested I use the library. For it was through my library visits that I became a passionate reader.  So much so, that in the last report card of the school year, Mrs. Green wrote, “Monica is now reading at second grade level.”

Finally! And in the nick of time, too. For third grade was just a summer away.