Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Bad Romance Language

Today is Dr. Seuss's birthday. He was born March 2, 1904. When I was a child, we didn't read much Dr. Seuss (I don't remember being read to much at all, actually), but I remember looking forward to the television specials based on his books. The Cat in the Hat. The Lorax. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

MathMan, on the other hand, had a mother who read quite a lot to him and his siblings. It was a surprise to no one when she abandoned a life of keeping house and raising six kids, to return to school to become a teacher librarian.

It's from my mother-in-law's example and MathMan's memories of her that I decided to read as much as possible to our children when they were little. Dr. Seuss always featured prominently when they were really young.

There was a time when, in addition to Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon which I can still recite, I could recite One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Foot Book. Many a naptime was prolonged by one more reading of Hop on Pop or Green Eggs and Ham. To this day, I attribute some of the made up words and general word play that goes on around here to those long ago readings and rereadings of Seuss.

MathMan is the chief word inventor, but each of us have contributed to the family lexicon over the years. MathMan coined phrases and terms to cover up for his male discomfort with words dealing with the more feminine aspects of life. Pads and tampons became stickers and harpoons. I think he just hates the clinical sound of words like tampon. And, let's face it, pantyliner does sound silly. When I hear that word, I think of an airliner or oceanliner. With panties. Look, I never claimed to be mature.

Each child has added to the family's list of words, as well. When they were younger, they created their own words for things like Kleenex, blanket and various stuffed animals. As they've grown and been exposed to influence beyond the home, they've added color and some kind of style to the language heard around here, as well. Style is such a subjective thing....

I tend to take old standards and change them up. When I became completely out as a nonbeliever, I tried very hard to stop using the words god and jesus as oaths. That led me to swipe "oh for cliff's sake" from the Young Ones.

Lately, I've been thinking about language more. I consider the meanings of specific words, the sounds, the way they might linger on your lips after you've said them, how they float into space, sometimes echoing or lilting or shattering the silence around you. Think of words whispered to a loved one or a 'hello?' echoing through an empty house when you check to see if you're alone. Angry words you spit out, only to wish you could snatch them back and stuff them into your pocket.

I've been thinking about the power and beauty of words. I can't imagine my thirst for new words to ever be quenched. I watch MathMan try to explain to me - using words - the concepts of numbers, math, patterns and I'm fascinated. I love it that he uses the method of having his student write about what they're learning in math because, had a teacher asked me to put the concepts into words, perhaps I would have been a much better math student. Words I can process. Numbers are like another language to me. And if I don't even have the basics? I am lost.

I've noticed that certain words and phrases stick with me, whether I use them myself or not. Oh, I have my rotating list of favorites. Some of them come from books or songs. Others come from people I know, things said and written to me, movies I've watched. I might get snagged by a word on a blog post, someone's tweet or Facebook status. I haven't formally collected them in any way, but I think my magpie brain must have a little pouch where they're stored. It resides alongside that place that houses the snatches of songs that play over and over in my head.

Following are some phrases and words currently lurking in that pouch. I don't know that I'll ever use them, verbally or otherwise, but I like to say them to myself occasionally, even if the result is only to crack myself up. Yes, I realize that I'm not entirely well.

In no particular order:

delightful...has lost the plot .....I ache for you.
...fetching....syrup....paisley.......nose kisses....plant....mysterious
....Cat Dancing....avenue....like my ipod stuck on replay, replay......
peppercorn rent....a white blank page and a burning rage...
in kind....fleeting....full.........I don't want to be friends
...pants on the ground...irony...wine... polish...
....expunge......listen, see....apoplexy....with one foot in the grave....
home...sad and demented, but social...ablaze....configure...upbraid...

I could go on and on, but I have things to do. There's that job search to continue. There's more writing to be done. There's that damned elliptical making rude gestures at me. I'm still not finished reading that pile of books sitting next to my bed. Sophia just called. School is letting out early because of snow. I'm sure I'll be conscripted at some point to play cards. And Chloe is home for spring break and we've got plans to don our mom and daughter stripper outfits, grab our hairbrushes and sing some Lady Gaga to the unappreciative cats.

Words add to life, but they can't replace it. Time to go live some......

And you? Do you collect words and phrases?
Your favorites? Or what's plaguing you? Besides the song above, of course.....


  1. Ghastly, fetching, assuage - I'm right there with you on those.

    My words: kerfluffle, soliloquy.

    I used to do volunteer reading at a Title I school, and it just broke my heart to realize that most of the kids I read to didn't get read to at home (for various reasons). Reading has been one of my true forms of escape when life gets... rough, thanks to my mom, who was diligent about trips to the county library when I was a kid. So double-thumbs-up-Fonzie-style to you for reading to yours - it is so so soooo important.

  2. I love words too. Both of my parents were writers in their careers, in the medical field at that. So not only did I develop a big vocabulary but I learned words that a lot of people didn't know and still don't. One time my dad and I accompanied my mom on a Girl Scout campout (she was a leader for a troop of Juniors - by this time I was 13 and not part of the troop, and they also needed another adult so my dad was conscripted). It was raining so he sat in the car writing something and I sat in the back seat reading his medical books. As a result I became an expert on "the fundus of the eye." That phrase still sticks with me. It's the back part of your eyeball.

    My mom read to me a lot when I was little, particularly Winnie-The-Pooh. In re-reading it now, I see that these books had a great vocabulary built in - words like "suspiciously" and other pretty sophisticated words were par for the course.

    Then of course I became a voracious reader and that is how I really developed my vocabulary. I worry about kids nowadays as they don't read as much as they used to and I really think that is the best way to learn new words - not memorizing them for an SAT test.

  3. Um, that should be "in rereading THEM now..." I think. Awkward sentence overall I guess...LOL!

  4. Cat dancing that sounds interesting.

    I love words and its surprising how often there is a new one to look up.

    I know so many children who never read:( I was in a chainstore here in UK today and was sad to see that most f the books in the children's section were how to pass tests books rather than reading for pleasure books

  5. By the time I was born my mother had tired of reading to her children, so she made us read aloud to one another. It actually made me want to learn to read as quickly as possible so that I could read aloud to others. Dr. Seuss was always my favorite, in some ways he still is. ;o)

  6. I have found myself really using the word douchebag a lot (wait, is that one word or two?) For example, Jake on the Bachelor is a total douchebag (as is John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnel and the newest member, Jim Bunning.) I've tried to cut back on profanity, as I have been using it way too much. I actually taught a word to a college student yesterday (enigmatic.)

    As for what's plaguing me .... the song, not that much. Lack of money, lack of "human touch", a head that will just not stop hurting. Those are the things that are plaguing me right now.

  7. I'm smart enough to *not* click on that tube of yous. I always chuckle when I hear some yokel go on about the dangers of drugs. Dude, ain't nothin' more powerful than words. Except maybe LSD.

  8. Boo boo has two that no matter HOW MANY TIMES she hears,

    Lemonade - she still says Emelade.
    Polka Dots - Coconuts.

    I love it.

  9. sort of related to your topic, but since you just reminded me....my son invented a catchall word yesterday and in using it in every sentence proceeded to irritate all within range--one kid even tackled him to the ground to get him to shut up. The word: hjuilste

    no shit. I would have tackled him too.
    I swear we didn't drop him on his head or anything.

  10. First of all, a "hat's off" to Dr. Seuss: how I love him. We had almost all of his books when I was a child and I particularly remember my father reading If I Ran the Circus and The Sleep Book to us.

    The other day my daughter said (of her father) that he was "just pizzling about" . . . in other words, not doing much at all. That phrase has stuck in my mind. Today, when I was tutoring, I had to explain several words to my student. The word "fret" (love that) comes to mind. So many of us are fretting at the moment, but when was the last time you heard that word?

  11. Mauigirl is so right: Reading is very best way to acquire new vocabulary. And really, it is the ONLY way to really understand the nuances (connotation, as opposed to denotation) of a word's meaning.

    Last night a friend said I was looking weathered -- although he meant to imply that I was glowing. I told him that weathered did NOT have a positive connotation.

  12. Like Mathman, I love to make up words. My favorite recent invention is teabuggery.

  13. Funny enough, I do have some favorites that I like to drop in both writing and conversation. Unlike Newt Gingrich, though, I don't keep them on note cards in shoe boxes; my brain is big enough to keep them right there, ready and waiting for the moment to pounce, like an overfed housecat upon a poor, unsuspecting mouse.

  14. My mom used to read "Green Eggs and Ham" to us...as a full blown temper tantrum.

    I can still see her in my head, stomping and screaming "I! DO! NOT! LIKE! GREEN EGGS AND HAM!!!"

    Thanks for the smile.

    I absolutely adore the words "befouled" and "zaftig" [or is it 'zoftig'?]

  15. Why does Gaga have to be so stinkin' weird? She's so pretty!

    Anyway, I have many fave words. My favorite set of words are metaphors and similes. I especially love this (and I can't remember who said it, but I think it's Robert Fulghum), paraphrased: cows down at the pond drinking their reflections.

    But some words all by themselves just wrap around your eardrums, lulling and uplifting you at the same time, like aroma therapy.

    Some evocative words I like, off the top of my head: woodlands, musk, symbiotic, synergistic, harmony (and ebony and ivory), willow, conscript, enrapture, ooze, virtuous, malinger, sublime, genuflect, engorged, entice, slather, yada yada yada. I LOVE words.

  16. i too looked forward to the Dr S specials which is why i have never seen any of the horrid (at least to me) live action films they made.

    I have always brought a couple phrases from college with me wherever i go (no not What's your sign or Aren't you in my Business Law class)

    The first was "That's the second largest [insert item here] I've ever seen". Something about everything being big in Texas it just kind of fit.

    The second (and feel free to use this one) is "Ya hate, I'm talking ya hate to see that" which even as I type this my friend John W somewhere is going HMMM Someone used the phrase!
    That started out at pool halls when someone would miss the eight ball and generally turned into a mock of anyone not doing too good whenever there was a competition going on between you and them.
    (yes i'm a bad person I know:) )

  17. I was read to at every chance, and I did the same with all my kids. We're BIG on words here! Big Verbal Girls at my house.

    And I love Lady Gaga and can't quit watching her videos.

  18. Love how the Brits will talk about having a pudding with "lashings of cream." Sounds wonderful just hearing/reading that. On the other hand, I hate the word utilize. Use use dammit. And synergy. And interface. Hell, I hate most of what I read in those corporate e-mails produced by the marketing or HR trolls. Oh, I like the word troll. Sorry for meandering (another nice word).

  19. Oh, I love your closer....that's a borderline one for writers...yes words are wonderful expressions of life but they don't replace it, ever....I love the free-writing exercise....

  20. I just watched the Gaga video...

    WOW. She is one beautifully strange chick.

  21. I can still recite Big Max: The World's Greatest Detective, and it's been quite a few years since I last had to read it to anyone. Kiddy lit burns itself into your brain and never leaves.

    As for words, I'm always amused (intrigued) by neologisms and cultural references that creep into language -- e.g., to MacGyver something -- and amazed by the way they can linger long after the original inspiration is dust.

  22. You forgot "Criminittly."

    I also like "Glorioski" in the same vein.

    Lately "egregious" has been used a lot in this house (after Pirates of the Caribbean). Conflate, obfuscate, fatuous... so many words...

    And my favorite Latin names of plants and animals: asclepias (milkweed), lespedeza (bush clover), liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum), metasequoia glyptostroboides (Chinese dawn redwood), procyon lotor (raccoon), and (possibly my very favorite, though not at all pretty) agkistrodon contortrix (copperhead).

  23. "sexy as socks on a rooster"

    I heard that at least 10 years ago now and I'm still trying to suss it out.

  24. I LOVE that Mathman calls pads and tampons stickers and harpoons! LOL! :)

    And I really like the word "assuage," too. Iwanski likes the Spanish word "dos." He likes to proclaim "Dos!" It makes me laugh. :)


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