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Dating the Lexicon: With Words, Is Bigger Better?


Wholesomeness, comprehensibility, ostensibly, verisimilitude, homogenous, remembrance, lackadaisical, loquacious, premonition...is it just me, or are the words I'm using these days pandering to some sort of a syllabic testimonial? 

Such big words.

But they don't bother me. As a book-bosomed, ballycumbered, logophile, I've never met a word I didn't like. (More big words about readers and reading.) 

Reading a big word for the first time is like developing a new crush. They appear so well put-together, their heads on their shoulders, dressed to impress, with their “C” curves and “G” frills and “Y” long-legs an added bonus. And the human attraction to mystery, ah, is a tale as old as time.

Then the courting begins. Hi. How do you do? What do you do? How do you mean? That’s so clever. You’re so clever.

Sometimes we solicit help to understand these word-nymphs (gender irrelevant, of course) and turn to dictionaries, thesauruses, lexicons, vocabulary lists or any other word finders. In an age of social media, perhaps looking up references for new words is the equivalent of stalking. We do it privately, so no one knows how or where we get our information. It’s only important that if someone brings it up, we know. We don’t need to be told because we know.

Once we’ve checked out a big word’s meaning—getting a sense of its interests and hobbies and what it wants to accomplish by the time the Oxford English Dictionary publishes its 30th edition—we start to connect the dots with our personal life. How much do we have in common? Would you fit my colloquial vocabulary? Could I introduce you to my family and friends? How would you reflect on me?

If we answer in mostly positives, we take the next step of trying to understand it. You’re so deep. I didn’t think like that before. Wow, you must have had a really interesting childhood.

Love and fascination grow in tandem. Obsession has also been known to occur. In the honeymoon period, you start to see, read, hear, feel, touch senses of the word everywhere. (It happened to me once, when I was young, with the word “mollycoddle” and later “asphyxiate”. )  And a new relationship is always so exciting. There’s suddenly that much more meaning to our lives... 

...Till we make the fated mistake of overusing, or worse, incorrectly using the word. A bad joke. An incomplete sentence. A misunderstanding. Then when the word fails us, we dump it. We dump it and vow to only date its synonyms: those simpler, easy-to-digest literary tidbits we’re used to; we’ve always been comfortable with.

Afterwards, we may make different choices; speak and read and think differently. But, quelle dommage! We may not choose to remember the word, but we’ll never forget.