Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vocabulary 101

I am a great admirer of language and sadly English is the only one I know. I also regret that I do not have a more powerful vocabulary. Over the years as I would read, if I came across a word I didn't know, I would write it down so I could look up the meaning. Open any drawer in my house and those little pieces of paper with undefined words on them will float out.

There were times when I did manage to make it to the dictionary and jotted down the pronunciation and definition. But more often than not my brain didn't retain the information.

There is one exception: untoward. I came across it for the first time in a Vanity Fair article. I looked at it for a long time trying to figure it out, failed, and then looked it up. Webster offers a couple options, but in the context of the article I've always remembered it as "not favorable; adverse, improper".

To this day I am delighted when I come across it and can call up it's meaning. Untoward. It's a funny word. Look at it long enough and it takes on different connotations. Not toward? Did you know that while toward means "direction, along a course", towardly means favorable or pleasant. See, that's why I like language.

Another word I love is doyenne. Not so much for what it means, or even how it looks -- which is a bit odd, but because of the way it sounds in my head: doiyyyyyenn. With reverberation. Much like a sound effect you would hear in a Road Runner cartoon.

As a woman of a certain age my body has begun to leak estrogen. And as goes this hormone, so go a few stray brain cells skipping out on me as well. That makes learning new words, or even remembering old favorites, a challenge. A friend of mine says she can't remember nouns. My dismissal process is not so selective. Along with nouns, I'm missing the ability to recall verbs, adjectives, names and points in time.

From time to time I hope to talk about new words I've learned or ones I've finally figured out how to use in a sentence. If you have favorites, I hope you will send them my way. But please include the definition. I'm running out of scrap paper.

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