There’s nothing like a good word to put a smile on my face. Persnickety, amok, discombobulated, kerfuffle—they all make me giggle.
I just love the acoustics of the words, the way the vowels and consonants roll around in the mouth, the cadence of the assorted syllables. Maybe it’s that storied comedic “k” sound. Maybe it’s the imagery that accompanies them. Or maybe it’s just because they’re fun to say.
If it weren’t for the fact that a lot of other people love such words, I might think I’m a little nuts (OK, I’m a lot nuts, but that’s not the point).
The chance to use a word like “glissando” (a glide from one pitch to another in music; think harp) doesn’t pop up much in my life, but when it does, I get a little giddy. My doctor was amused by my reaction to the harp music in her office at my last visit, anyway.
But I’m certainly not the only one more than a little obsessed with words and phrases.
Last week, Slate posted an interactive map constructed of favorite slang words or phrases in each state, based on input from linguists, message boards, friends and colleagues, and Slate readers. Arkansas got “tump”; I see no problem with that, except maybe their sample sentence: “We’re about to hit this bump, so hold your drink or it will tump.”
Seems a bit too proper and contrived for my taste; of course, I grew up in the country, tumping out wheelbarrows (or being tumped out of them) in the garden. Maybe it’s just me.
At least we Arkies did better than Missouri, whose word was … Missouri. My aunt and cousins there must be exceptions, since I don’t hear that particular word very often from them. Of course, I only see them every once in a while, but still …
And I’m not a huge fan of Alabama, but I’m genuinely envious of its word: cattywampus. Fun to say? Hell, yeah!
I asked readers for their favorite words and phrases, and got quite an amusing response; some of what I couldn’t use this week will likely show up soon in another column. How can I resist a Jane Austen-esque analysis of the GOP presidential field?
Diane Plummer of Heber Springs wrote me: “I recently was talking to a friend about a heavy rain and described it as a ‘toad strangler,’ which she had never heard before. I don’t know the origin of the expression and couldn’t find it in either of the books I mentioned [by Charles Earle Funk, of Funk & Wagnalls fame] but I’ve always liked it.”
Coincidentally, that phrase was Slate’s pick for Florida. As far as its origin, I didn’t find much, either, other than that it’s chiefly Southern, especially on the Gulf Coast, and has been mentioned in print at least back to 1906, according to The Dictionary of American Regional English.
And I definitely need to get those books.
Ken Greening of Memphis said: “I was thinking recently … about a word I never hear anymore but one that my parents’ generation (WWII) seemed to use a lot. I grew up in Camden. … ‘When are you coming over? Oh, directly.’ ‘When are you leaving? Oh, directly.’ However, the pronunciation came out as … ‘dreckly.’ Anyway, that expression seems to have passed into history, but was always well-understood as to what it meant.”
Yup, this is one I remember from my grandparents, often with the comment that they would be going “to home,” or maybe “to Wal-Marts.” Ah, memories.
John Eberhard, who always amuses me and makes me think when I read his comments on the newspaper’s website, contributed two of his favorites, both “b” words: borborygmi and brouhaha. He noted: “Not that they are particularly inspiring; I just like the sound of them.”
A man after my own heart.
While most people likely know what brouhaha means (noisy and overexcited reaction or response), generally the people who know the meaning of borborygmi are fellow word nerds or sufferers of persistent stomach ailments, though everybody has borborygmi (man, it really is fun to say). That’d be the plural of the noun denoting the rumbling or gurgling noise made by movement of fluid and gas in the intestines.
Fun to say, not fun to have on a regular basis. Trust me.
Fellow blogger Sarah Ricard is also a fan of persnickety (we Jan. 13 people think alike at times, and of course have great taste), but she offered a few others (all excellent) in comments on my blog: “I read the word ‘befurbelowed’ (to be dressed up in fancy clothes) in The Awakening several years ago, and it is one of my favorites. Curmudgeon, meander, frock, contemplative, cerulean are several favorites that come to mind. For example, I could tell my husband, ‘You’re such a curmudgeon for honking at the contemplative goose meandering across the road.’
“My favorite saying came from a choir director in Texas. He would always say, ‘Well, roll my socks up and down’ if he got excited about something.”
I tend to wear short socks, so people will just have to guess if I’m excited. And the days I don’t wear socks at all, you’re on your own.
Janet Hill of Fairfield Bay said of her favorite phrases: “A few of mine came to mind, but I failed to write them down and now they have left me. But just last night my daughter told me I had got ‘a good scald’ on the cornbread. My grammy used to say it when something turned out perfectly.”
That particular saying seems to be what a lot of grandmas have said, if entries on the Internet are any indication, much of it having to do with chicken. I couldn’t track down its origin, but if you get a good scald on that chicken, I’m feelin’ a bit peckish.
And I definitely understand phrases leaving the mind (in my case, usually to return when I’m trying to get to sleep … or driving … not at the same time). Just one of the wonderful effects of short-term memory loss.
Chuck Anderson, meanwhile, sent a few phrases his momma used to say, including: “‘He got his tail over the dashboard,’ meaning he got all huffed up over something. ‘It’s time to break that boy’s plate,’ meaning it’s time to send him on out into the world on his own,” and “‘The rats are dying,’ referring to that last few minutes of frantic run around the room activity before the kids finally give up and go to sleep.”
Speaking of, I think I see the rats getting ready to put on Camille. One of them apparently does a great impression of Greta Garbo.
For those who’ve asked, my Luke is still ill (and not happy to have been to see the vet so much since last Monday), but hopefully will soon recover. Thank you to everyone for your well wishes!
He sees his regular vet on Wednesday (assuming he doesn’t go to the same hidey-hole I couldn’t locate Tuesday morning). Since they know his history, I’m hoping they’ll have a better idea about what’s going on.
The kid has not had a good week. Between the apparent pain, the throwing up, missing the litter box and, now, not eating (possibly he’s paranoid after all that throwing up), he’s been to an emergency vet three times in the course of a week (and tried to hide under the towel in his carrier on the last visit, pictured above.). And this one will make No. 4. The 18-pound boy is now 15 pounds.
I’m hoping for the best, but know I have to be prepared for the worst (like his kidneys shutting down). If that happens, though, rest assured that he will always haunt me, especially for putting those antlers on his head.