Wordy von Worderstein

*This will possibly be boring to some people. What can I say? I'm a gigantic nerd.

I've been thinking recently about words: their pronunciations, their spellings, and the emotional response I have to them.

I don't suppose it's odd that I am fascinated by prefixes or suffixes or roots or phonetics or definitions; I am, after all, a teacher-in-the-English-department (though I don't teach English itself). I like how letters are put together to make words, and how words are put together to make phrases, and those phrases become sentences, and so on.

Last week, I read this article about a push for "logical spelling," because apparently it's too hard for people today to learn how words have been spelled FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. Substituting latr for later, for example, or jeenyus for genius. Well, I just call that appalling. It's pandering to our lazy culture, in addition to MAKING US STUPID. I doubt the rest of the world is going to follow that example. Can you see France exchanging see voo play for s'il vous plait? Are the Spanish going to throw the ~ away?

And so I began to think about how words would change if their spelling changed. Would I be uncomfortable with the word unkumfterbul? Would I enjoy eating in a restront? Would I watch a play in a theeter or a thee-ay-tur? Yes, no, and neither (I prefer the theatre), I think.

Then yesterday, I read this post by Amanda , about marking passages of books as you read. I used to do that with textbooks, but I haven't really done it with books-I-read-because-I-want-to. I've tried; I start big, with my highlighter or my pencil, but then I get drawn into the story, and I don't want to stop READING in order to write something down.

But Amanda made me think about how I respond, not only to the craftsmanship of placing perfect words together on a page, but also to individual words, and how some automatically make me smile while others make me grimace or roll my eyes.

Here are some words that I love and words I'm not too keen on:

I love it for its pronunciation

calliope- I just like the hard khuh sound at the beginning, mixed with the long e at the end. When I was a kid, I totally thought that Persephone was pronounced purse-eh-phone. I said it that way in my head as I read about her. And I have to tell you, I was very VERY disappointed when I learned that epiphany is NOT spelled epiphone. I think it should be.

petrification- I just thought of this during the past week. I was thinking of how the word petrified can refer to being very afraid, or to being sort of frozen in time, or it can describe a piece of wood that you buy at Hillbilly Junction that has a clock face on it. When I looked it up in the dictionary (dictionaries are about the most useful book I know; also, I use dictionary.com ALL THE TIME. Because ... NERD), I saw the noun form: petrification. It was love at first sight.

Shropshire - I love how my voice sounds when I say it. Shhhhhhrop. SSSShhhhher. I especially love to pop that p in the middle. (My sister Joon loves to say, "Shawshank!" She'll say it fast, then slow, then fast again. I don't think she's ever seen the movie, but she reads the title aloud everytime she sees it in the tv guide.)

I love it because it makes me laugh

Bangkok- Because I'm twelve.

onomatopoeia- I have to look it up every time I spell it, but I love it nonetheless. Everyone looks ridiculous when saying this word; check it out for yourself using a mirror. Plus, its definition is delicious: noise words? I totally love noise! and words! Put them together and what do you get? On-oh-mot-oh-pee-uh.

snickerdoodle- It's got the laugh built in (snicker)!

I love it because it holds memories

alliteration - The easiest literary element to learn AND teach. Also, I have a teeny-tiny little overbite that causes my Ss to hissssss. (I personally call it a *twinkle* because it sounds cuter). I have a friend who, every time he sees me, says something to the effect of, "Hello Mei. Isssssssn't thisssssssss a ssssssplendid day?" But I happen to be very good at tongue twisters, despite my "handicap," and I can rattle off "Sally sells seashells" without blinking an eye.

Grace - This is my grandma's name. That's the first reason I love it. It says so much about who she was. The second reason is its definition: giving something you don't have to give, or receiving something you don't deserve to have. That was my grandma all over too.

Schenectady - On top of being super-fun to say, I also lived in this place, and I enjoyed it mightily. I'm not saying I'd move back, because I have grown accustomed to living in a place where it doesn't snow ten feet during the winter, but I have fond memories of living there.

I don't like it and you can't make me

bling - I cannot describe how much I hate this word. It is stupid and it doesn't mean anything and it is overused and it is gross. I have an almost violent reaction to this word, because really, I just feel like smacking people who use it. Especially if one of those people is Ryan Seacrest.

For that matter, I hate any word that is misspelled ON PURPOSE, and in particular, those that have become accepted as proper spellings. NO ONE CONSULTED ME. These words include dawg, donut, krazy, qwik, nite, rite, xmas, among others. I don't think making words "cute" is an excuse.

wart - It's just ugly is all.

I cannot say it no matter how hard I try

There's really only one word that I know of: particularly. I just can't seem to get my mouth around it. So I use my mental thesaurus and find another word to use in its place.

Words that annoy me when people don't pronounce them correctly

jewelry - I don't like joo-la-ree. That is just a weird thing on my part. Although my pronunciation isn't technically correct, either; I say joo-ree.

nuclear - This one gives me the twitches every time I hear it: noo-kyoo-ler. Um, NO. It's very clear, even phonetically: noo-klee-er.


I know that few people--if any--think along these lines. I don't mind being the kind of person who loves the English language SO MUCH that she can talk about it for hours on end. Seriously. I have fully embraced my nerd-oriety (I made that up!) and parade it proudly.

In conclusion, I just want to say that this list is not all-encompassing. Every day I see or hear a word in a new context, and it's like I've rediscovered my own language. And I get all excited and try to casually drop the word into a conversation and then I feel pretty smug if I manage it. It's like a secret game I play. And I'm always the winner.


Anonymous said...

What about the word panty? Does anyone other than me hate that word? Call them underwear, call them draws, call them skivvies, just please, please don't call them panties!

Waterfall said...

I think this is my favorite thing you have ever posted. And I LOVE your word "nerd-oriety." I'm a chronic portmanteau-maker, myself!

I'm fascinated by words and their many shadings. I'm editing a book right now and am having too much fun digging through the thesaurus and bartleby.com to find just the right words.

Word nerds, unite!

Mei said...

Anon: I only refer to those things when absolutely necessary, and I never EVER call them panties. I don't know why that is. I wish we still used the word bloomers.

Waterfall: See? Portmanteau is fairly new to me; if it weren't for Brangelina I'd never have known it. Now I will have to drop it into a random sentence!
Also, there should totally be a club called Word Nerds. I'm seeing Scrabble tournaments and fights over which is more correct, color or colour, and then a giant race to the dictionary to check out etymologies.

I think I would love to work at the Oxford English dictionary, to be able to decide what new words make it in, and which words are obsolete (answer: none. Well, except I would have bling out of there so fast ...).


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