Mother’s Day was tough for me this year, so soon after my mom’s death. Last year was tough because it was the first one without my furkid, the Galloping Goofball (king of all he surveyed … and everything else), but this year, with neither of them, was more than a little depressing.
It doesn’t help that the news is full of the trade war (which is neither easy nor good), people in full-scale denial of reality (seriously, get out of your echo chambers, people), and others playing victim when their beliefs are challenged (because apparently they don’t understand what a debate actually is … poor little Ben Shapiro … and by a fellow conservative, no less).
Any time, then, that I can find respite from things that make my eyes roll and my blood pressure go up, you can bet I’m going to head down that rabbit hole. And you know what that usually is for me.
The use of the word “machinations” in an editorial last week reminded me it’s been a long time since I’ve talked about words that are fun to say (more than a year … don’t know how that happened … geez … falling down on the job).
It’s not just the funny words like “persnickety,” “bumfuzzle” and “shenanigans” that are fun for word nerds like me. Some words are simply a pleasure to intone. “Machination,” for example, has hard and soft consonant sounds combined with the pleasant rhythm of its pronunciation, which is very calming somehow, at least for me. You might think that’s a bit odd since the word means “scheme,” but hey, word nerds are a puzzle sometimes.
Still, we’re great fun if you like goofy puns … and bad puns … and worse jokes.
Machination isn’t the only somewhat negative word that’s enjoyable to say. Several phobias are much more fun to say than to have. Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) will probably always be my favorite, but I can’t help but enjoy saying “koumpounophobia” (fear of buttons … don’t watch Coraline!), “melissophobia” (fear of bees, not people named Melissa … but this one is more entertaining than its other name, apiphobia), and “phobophobia” (basically fear of fear … very meta). But while I enjoy saying “ailurophobia,” I can’t help but feel sorry for those souls afraid of cats because they’re generally delightful. Of course, maybe they met my boy on a bad day … that could explain it …
Sadly, the phobias I suffer from in varying degrees don’t really have entertaining names: acrophobia (heights) and basophobia (falling) … and coulrophobia (clowns, though mine’s now more aversion than real fear) and enochlophobia (crowds) just don’t inspire even a titter.
“Nemesis,” someone who is an enemy, rolls off the tongue with a little bit of a hiss, a small suggestion of onomotapoeia (also fun to say). That nemesis is probably also more than a little nefarious, iniquitous, villainous, scandalous, etc. It seems there are a lot of hissing sounds in many of the words that mean evil … perhaps a callback to the Garden of Eden? Eh … it’s a theory.
“Mellifluous” has that “s” sound too, but there’s nothing evil about it. Mellifluous the word is just as nice as its actual definition, which is sweet or musical, pleasant to hear; not surprising, considering its Latin root words mean “honey” and “to flow.”
“Tintinnabulation,” the ringing of bells, is also pleasant … well, as long as you’re not directly under a big one when it begins to peal. You’re probably most familiar with the word from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1849 poem “The Bells”:
“Hear the sledges with the bells—
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells. …”
While mellifluous and tintinnabulation are all about sound, two other words I enjoy are about fragility. “Evanescent” is an adjective meaning something that tends “to vanish like vapor,” according to Merriam-Webster. The word itself seems just as airy and fragile as what it describes.
“Diaphanous,” also an adjective, means something with so fine a texture that it can be seen through, and is often quite fragile. Delicate diaphanous fabrics are perfect for designers who want to provide a bit of dreamy airiness, like, say, in a wedding dress.
Sure, those sheer fabrics are also sometimes used by unconventional sorts to create a spectacle, but when I think of diaphanous, I think of organza, tulle, chiffon and the like, just the sort of fabric that floats in the breeze. I do not want to think about sheer fabrics barely covering naughty bits.
Some of us need a lot more coverage. That includes you, Kardashian clan.
As melodic as these words are, I’ll never lose my love for the words that make me giggle. Some can even make politics mildly tolerable … but only mildly … they’re not miracle workers.
Snollygoster, which I ran across while researching medieval words several weeks back (though it’s from the 1800s, not the Middle Ages), means a shrewd but unprincipled person, often a politician.
It was fading when Harry Truman used it in a 1952 speech to refer to Republicans (he was a Democrat, remember), and it revived a little, but it was William Safire who brought it back into more use, having written about it multiple times in his New York Times On Language columns beginning in 1980, to be adopted by Bill O’Reilly later, Merriam-Webster reported.
Behold the power of the word nerd!
And taradiddle, a petty lie or pretentious nonsense, seems tailor-made for politics … which it might have been, as its etymology is unclear. Along with balderdash, poppycock, trumpery and pseudologist, it almost makes politics somewhat bearable.
Almost. Words can only do so much.
I can’t let this post pass without paying homage to a man who most assuredly helped focus my weird sense of humor, Tim Conway, who died Tuesday at age 85.
When I was a kid, my family and I would watch The Carol Burnett Show together, and anytime Tim was on, it was all but guaranteed to be a belly-buster. The bloopers were even better, and it was always hilarious watching him crack up Harvey Korman with his ad-libs.
He taught me that comedy is more than words or pratfalls; he could do so much with silence and facial expressions than many comedians can do with a whole arsenal of jokes, props and physical bits.
First it was Jonathan Winters (2013), Robin Williams (2014) and now Tim. Three comedy legends known for their outrageous characters and masterful ad-libs, all gone. The world is even darker now, and a lot less funny.
But we still have the elephant story to remember Tim. And the dentist … the oldest man … Barnacle Boy … Mr. Tudball …