Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fun and Words

I've had a life-long fascination with words; with their sounds, with their origins, with their meanings. It amazes me how few people ever take even a moment to think about the words they use every day, when doing so can add layers of appreciation and delight to their use.

I have, for example, been making a list of words which are, in effect, their own definition. Some are so elementary as to be fascinating when you stop to think about it: "fly," for example. A "fly" is what it is, and "fly" is what it does.

A great many two-and-three syllable words contain their definition in the individual words of which they are comprised, and mentally breaking them into their separate words gives a new appreciation for them and their meaning:

lawnmower
blackberry
blueberry
foghorn
battleship
gravedigger
peacemaker
handkerchief
timekeeper
scorekeeper
bartender
nightclub

Many of the words we use have foreign roots which are self-descriptive in their original language:

parasol ("for sun")
mayday (mispronunciation of "m'aidez:" "help me")

Some common self-defining words are archaic and thus less obvious than others:

breakfast (refers to breaking the fast between dinner and dawn)
landlord (from the times when titled "lords" owned large amounts of land and had control over the people who lived on them)

The three primary American sports are self-descriptive, of course:

basketball
baseball
football

I'm particularly intrigued with words whose pronunciation has evolved to the point where it totally obscures the word's true meaning or origins. The despised racial epithet, "the N-word," is in fact a logical result of the combination of casual repetition and rapid pronunciation of the historically-acceptable word "Negro," which morphs into the "N-word."

Those of you who have followed my blogs for some time are already aware that when it comes to mispronunciation totally hijacking the meaning of a word, my personal cause celebre (literally, "famous case") is "President," and I have dragged out my soapbox innumerable times to point out that the correct pronunciation...and the true meaning...is "pre-ZI-dent": one who presides. Yet I'd bet that 9,999 out of 10,000 have never made this connection.

And so, as with so many things in life, I fight my own little battles and, as with so many of my little battles, lose them--though I have fun doing so.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).

8 comments:

Diana said...

Here's some word fun for you Dorien.I googled handkerchief because I know what it is, but didn't see it being self-explanitory as the other words were. Boy did I get a lesson on everything you wanted to know about handkerchief code.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief_code

Dorien/Roger said...

LOL! Indeed, Diana. As a gay man, I remember when knowing the handkerchief code was almost mandatory in the late 70s, early 80s.

But I'm glad you got my point...that learning about words can be really fun.

Eleanor Raif said...

I too have always loved words. Funny, as a child I was a very early reader and writer and my voice, though very quiet, was extremely proper, for which I was made fun of, oddly enough. I pronounced words as they were meant to be pronounced. I obsessed over them and corrected people's spelling even when I was very small. I saw, and still do, the spelling of words as people spoke, going across my mind like ticker tape. I am one of the few people who snaps up books on word origins and reads them from beginning to end. Later I am recanting details I learned to family and friends who are in turn telling themselves 'just smile and nod'. :)

One of my pet peeves are companies that spell their names in such a way that it is pronounced like a real word but isn't a real word. For example, just yesterday I saw a company logo on a truck. They were called 'Oncor'. My mind is boggled. Did they not know how to spell it? Or did they choose to misspell it? Does it stand for something?

I am also supremely irritated at the modern trend to misspell words intentionally in an attempt at humor. In my mind I am thinking has it become cool to look like an idiot? The answer: yes.

Sorry for the rambling...

Dorien/Roger said...

Ramble away, Eleanor. I'm always delighted when I can get people thinking about things.

Kage Alan said...

I've always had a thing for the word behoove. Probably because it irks the hell out of me.

Dorien/Roger said...

Now that's a first, Kage. Do you know exactly what it is about the word that upsets you? Sound? Spelling? Definition?

Tammy Bleck said...

Dorien, so enjoyed this post. Words are one of my most fav things. Using the right ones cut right to the chase and sometimes not using them at all impacts even more. But you've brought out the fun in them, and that is awesome. We are on the same page. I wrote a piece once called Words can kill. Have a peek http://wittywomanwriting.com/words-can-kill/ Think you will enjoy the read. I know I enjoyed yours!

Dorien/Roger said...

Nice blog, Tammy, and well said. We are indeed on the same page. (May I ask where you got your "Feed My Fish" app? You can write me at doriengrey@gmail.com)