Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What's the good word?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Some years ago a company (Workman Publishing?) came out with the Word a Day Calendar. Maybe they still make them. It was (is)a chunky block of paper with a new word and definition for each day of the year. I loved it. Good-bye Color Library of Puppies, The Love of Horses or Castles of Ireland. I was hooked. Friends and I would make an effort to use the word of the day in casual conversation.

Two decades later I am hooked on www.wordsmith.org, an online subscription service that sends me a new word every day. Each week is themed, so they might be words with a French or Italian origin, or those related to animals, history or time. Sometimes they are obscure..archaic but most of the time they are words that have simply fallen into disuse.
I'm not in the habit of throwing what used to be called "ten dollar words" into my manuscripts but sometimes it's good to be reminded that there are more words available to us than we normally use. Recent words lyceum (a lecture hall or secondary school) and cuckold (a man whose wife has been unfaithful.) Certainly words I've spoken but I doubt that I have ever used either in any of my five books.
So...what words have you recently rediscovered or would like to work back into your rotation?
(PS I have gone back to the dogs...my 2012 wall calendar is Golden Retrievers.)

HALLIE EPHRON: Plethora. Love the way it sounds. And I actually used it in a conversation the other days. But is it PleTHORa or PLEthora?

ROSEMARY: LOVE plethora (I think it's PLETH-o-ra.) I like it even more than myriad.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I love word a day! It's always so gratifying when I know it. I just discovered dysthymia. I won't use it, probably, but it's good knowing it.

The Greek word dysthymia means “bad state of mind” or “ill humor." Isn't it funny how the words you need--are the ones that appear?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm going to have to subscribe to Wordsmith.org! One of my favorite words is defenestration, meaning to toss a person out of the window. I've never been able to use the word in my fiction, but I did defenestrate a character, so there is that.
Oh, can I vote for two words falling into disuse that needs to be revived? EFFECT/AFFECT. I am so sick of hearing talking heads tell me how the recession is "impacting" Michigan or weather forecasters describing how the storm will "impact" us on Tuesday. I recently heard a reporter say something was "an impactful event" and I nearly defenestrated my TV.

AFFECT = verb = to influence. EFFECT = noun = a result. It's not rocket science, people.

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Julia - I learned "defenestration" the hard way. Using the bathroom at a friend's house, a sign on the inside of the door said, "Do not lock, or defenestration is the only way out." No idea what that meant, la la la... Needless to say I locked the door. Forget defenestration: small window, hugely pregnant me.
Turned out taking the door off its hinges, for which there no a single word, was the other way out.

ROSEMARY: You've had some adventures!

RHYS BOWEN: A word I really love to use (because I only recently confirmed what it means) is BUCOLIC. It sounds as if it ought to be a nasty disease that affects children. I'm currently writing a Molly Murphy novel and always conscious that people in early 1900s had much bigger vocabularies and enjoyed speaking and writing in flowery sentences. My grandmother and great aunt were young women then and they were so well read and expressed themselves so eloquently. Not a single "Like" or "y'know" ever passed their lips!
I'd like revive the correct use of LIE and LAY. Even news commentators get it wrong these day (although I'm sure Hank ever does).

ROSEMARY: Any favorite new-ish words out there?


  1. Defenestration! I think I did that when I was a teenager, although I don't know how to use it to say it.

    The OED online has a word of the day service. I loved Sunday's word: Analects/analecta, meaning literary gleanings as in collections of fragments or extracted parts.

    I don't think i would ever use it in writing, but I like knowing what it means. I love the sound of it, especially analecta - a bit like a woman's name.

  2. Jeopardy has an occasional category called "New to the OED." On last night's show, it appears that "turducken" has qualified. Do we really need that?

    What is "dysthymia"? It reminds me (for some reason known only to my morning brain) of "phthisis," an old word for tuberculosis. I always wondered if anyone could pronounce it--it sounds like a sneeze.

    So many of the new words (or uses) are short. Who ever thought "Friend" would become a verb?

  3. I subscribe to Dictionary.com Word of the Day and get a new word in my email every morning. I post them on my FB page and my readers have fun coming up with "alternative" definitions.

    Most won't make it to my books, but I was surprised to find "veriest" is a real word. And I love the sound of "fusty."

    And what about "filiopietistic"

  4. Sheila, I just added the definition...it's a great word, and arrived in my mailbox just tat the time flames were coming out of my ears.

    Terry, what's veriest? Like--the most authentic? It's the veriest cherry pie made of chemicals I've ever tasted?

  5. On iGoogle, the home page for Google members, I've added a Word of the Day gadget from dictionary.com. Some of the words are so archaic, you just know they've only been used for select occasions.

    This morning I woke up thinking of all the wonderfully delicious words in French that describe various foods: aubergine, courgettes, pamplemousse.

  6. Julia, can't you also "effect change," which would mean "effect" can be a verb? Then again, that's so jargony, maybe it shouldn't be allowed.

    I stand up and cheer whenever I see someone use "complement" correctly. I don't stand up and cheer much.

    I like "feign." I used that in a text message once, then immediately realized what a word dork I was being. Fortunately, it was to my husband, who understands me.

  7. Sorry I didn't get my word up for today. I was betwixt and between, although not really in an indecisive state, just traveling with no internet access. Can you ever use "betwixt" without "between"?

    Loved the paper "word a day" calendars. I have it on iGoogle but forget to look, so I should sign up for an email.

  8. I'm a big fan of the French Word a Day blog (not actually daily) by Kristen Espinasse, an American married to a French winemaker, who writes about slices of daily life in France, each focused on a specific word or phrase http://french-word-a-day.com/ Not sure it's actually expanded my French vocabulary, but it has expanded my love of France. Beautiful photos, too.

  9. Hank:

    veriest \VER-ee-ist\, adjective:

    1. Utmost; most complete.
    2. Superlative of very.

  10. I enjoy words with wildly different meanings. How about "mensal", which according to my dictionary, can mean either "of or used at the table" or "monthly."

  11. Deb, I've heard betwixt used alone as in "betwixt the devil and the deep blue sea."

    One of my favorite words lately is "behoove."

  12. Whoa, I thought "defenestration" had something to do with deforestation. Go figure.

    My pet peeve is "orientate." And what the hell is "orientated?"

    For some reason, I love words related to architecture. Cupola, portico. What exactly are they? I finally looked them up.

    I wish I could think of an example, but I love it when someone uses a cool word that I've only read in novels. Half the time I think, OH, that's how you pronounce that word.

  13. I have to sign up for the word thing. One of the joys of reading for me is the love of words, and their proper usage. BTW, there is a diagnosis for the mildly depressed called Dysthymic Disorder, no, I don't know why it is called that even though I use it a lot in my work.

  14. I can't believe I missed this group blog, this is one of my favorite topics.

    I'm all for bringing OLD, OUT OF DATE, words back,

    for example...spavined - marked by a decrepit, broken-down condition.

    Ferule - a rod, can or piece of wood for punishing children (yikes, so prevalent it had its own name)

    And this isn't old or out of date, but I love the word compendium -- the flow of the syllables or something - for a concise treatment or summary of a subject.

    I get the word of the day on my dictionary program!

  15. I subscribe to something called Urban Word of the Day in which younger people try to explain current sayings and phrases to us geezers. My favorite was last week, in which the phrase was "Congressional Review," which means: "To loosely read or breeze through a document, likely missing a fair amount of the information contained within."

  16. I have the 365 New Words A Year calendar and today's word is adventitious: accidental, incidental.

    I also have the 365 Amazing Trivia Facts and when watching jeopardy one day, I was the only one who had the correct answer to Final Jeopardy. Too bad I wasn't a contestant.

  17. Anon. It means in a little while, or at another time. I think it's much more elegant than later (alligator) or I'll see you tomorrow (when I may not). Also contrarily defined as at once, immediately. Confusion anon.

    The last word-a-day calendar I had was with Latin words. I couldn't keep up with it, though. Tempus fugit. (Time flies.)

    Pondering words and word derivation is a hobby at our place. My husband and I often research words falling into disuse and run to archaic, slang or older dictionaries. Inevitably at 3am. We might look up the correct form of a phrase, or how a phrase evolved. A recent lookup: Well I never! (Leaving the inevitable query, Never what?)

    I don't think I've ever used the word defenestration. So is there also fenestration? Maybe take the hinges off the window? (fenestra, Latin = window)

    Betwixt and twixt both mean between. Use singly, as thou wilt.

    The veriest thanks Reds, for mentioning all these sources for word-a-day delivery. I shall subscribe anon.

  18. Brilliant idea: thinking of writing a novel with a child narrator whose parents named him Anon.

    Imagine what that would do to ya.

  19. LOVE this conversation today!

    One of my favorite pastimes is reading the dictionary,which I do not admit to very many people! A few years ago I was having a conversation with a neighbor. He mentioned that he loved to learn the derivation of words so much that he ended up buying not one but TWO copies of the OED: the thick one on flimsy paper, and that comes with a magnifier, and the multivolume set(because it hurt his eyes to read the other version.) I was never so jealous of someone! One of the big selling points for me when I bought my Kindle was that it comes loaded with the OED. My neighbor would have loved today's conversation but, sadly,he died a few weeks ago.

    By the way,for historic reasons I am keeping the dictionary that I was required to purchase in my freshman year of college by my English professor!

    I have seen the Word a Day calendars but I think I like the idea of subscribing to a Word a Day email even better. Now I need to go check them out to find which one I want! (Except I can't read the captcha words here today, and requesting a different set is going to slow me down...)

  20. Just wanted to pop back in and share today's Dictionary.com Word of the Day: rutilant

    I sure didn't know that one, and the meaning surprised me.

  21. Excrescence is my word of the week.

    I always have a list of words, most of them fairly common that I want to work into my latest WIP. Word of the Day is great. Don't know how I fell off their list.