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What we say

One of the things I love most about the English language is its precision. Maybe the fact that I have been working in, around and with English for some time contributes to my awareness of the specificity of my language. But whenever I wander into certain words, I am in awe of the vastness of our vocabulary.

Driving down the highway, I was busily searching for antelope. Two of them appeared, hiding in a recessed patch of ground. They were in a gully, a word I may never have used before. It could have been a ditch, a valley or who knows what. But having gully available was simply a good time.

Think about the word “persnickety.” You may have only heard it used once or twice. If so, I’ll bet you picture a grouchy, temperamental old guy who can also be a curmudgeon. That’s a double winner. Isn’t it glorious that someone, somewhere thought to put the right letters together in order to create a euphonious treasure such as persnickety?

Our language also has words such as mellifluous, cacophony, hyperbole, aristocracy and pusillanimous. These are words that have nothing to do with each other. They are all entertaining to say, have quite explicit meanings and are seldom heard in ordinary conversations. But now and then I admit to the habit of dropping in one of these more obscure words, simply because they are so inherently illuminating.

Have fun with this: We toured a home and discovered the interior to be gawdy and anachronistic. Replace the last word with old-fashioned, outdated, passé, unfashionable or common and you would achieve essentially the same effect. But why not enjoy a four-syllable, delicious word when you have the opportunity? It’s salubrious! And if you’re inclined to suggest that using these terms is being a showoff – I’ll tell you what I often say. Word are like muscles; if you don’t use them, they atrophy. Shalom.

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