I am a Logophile--are You?
by Karen L. Oberst

  Like many writers, I have a love affair with words--all kinds of words. I like short, neat words (buzz, hiss), long, flowing words (verisimilitude), made-up words (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), old words (mayhaps, fust), new words (hypertext), gloomy words (lugubrious), cheerful words (jonquil)...Well, you get the idea.

I discovered the joy of words when I was twelve or thirteen, reading Sherlock Holmes for the first time. I came to a paragraph in A Study in Scarlet: "'Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Watson?' he asked in undisguised wonder, as we rattled through the crowded London streets. 'You are as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut.'" Up until this time, I had simply gathered the meanings of unfamiliar words from context as best I could, but something led me to look up lath, perhaps because I thought it was a misspelling for lathe, which still didn't make sense. I learned a lath was a thin, narrow strip of wood. A couple of pages later, as Watson is going to meet Holmes for the first time, he proceeds through a "long corridor with its vista of whitewashed wall and dun-colored doors." Fresh from my experience with lath, I looked up dun, and found it meant tan, and I was as hooked as a fish with a brightly-colored lure. Learning that knowing the meaning of a words could give new enjoyment to what I read, I began looking up anything even remotely unfamiliar.

"...hooked as a fish with a brightly-colored lure, I began looking up anything even remotely unfamiliar."

  "Of course, anyone who loves words loves Dr. Seuss [and] Lewis Carroll." Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite words, and some of the surprising places I met them.

Of course, anyone who loves words loves Dr. Seuss. Here are just a few from my most recent acquisition, The Lorax. "At the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows..." The Once-ler "...lurks in his lerkin, cold under the roof, where he makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof." "This thing is a Thneed. A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!" And so on, and so on. Seuss is a genius at creating words that describe something exactly, which convey feeling with their sounds.

Another obvious author is Lewis Carroll. "Jabberwocky" from Through the Looking Glass would earn him a place in the Word Lovers' Hall of Fame even if he had never written anything else. It begins "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsey were the borogroves,/And the mome raths outgrabe." Within its few verses we are also introduced to the "frumious Bandersnatch," "vorpal sword," "tulgey wood," beamish boy," and "frabjous day." Many of these of course are portmanteau words--two words put together to make a third, which includes the meaning of both, such as slithy meaning lithe and slimy, and mimsey meaning miserable and flimsy. But whatever they mean, they are a joy to say.

  Some of my favorite words have come from the media. Verisimilitude, a pretentious word meaning "having the appearance of truth," I learned from Doctor Who, a British science fiction series. The Doctor is a Time Lord, and many of his race are pretentious and overbearing. From one of them, I learned verisimilitude. Galifreyan, the language the Time Lords speak, is often described as a series of mellifluous syllables, that is, it is pleasing to the ear. And the Doctor, who carries around a lot of junk with him, has capacious (roomy) pockets. I also learned patronize (to condescend), although it is pronounced differently in England, and prophylactic (preventative).

From the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, I learned caliginous (dark). If you recall, the Tin Man is described by Oz as a "clanking collection of caliginous bolts."

A program for a Smothers Brothers show I attended in high school gave me peruse (to study carefully), not a big word, but one easy to drop into a sentence. (Have you perused the new guy yet?)

"Some of my favorite words have come from the media."

  "Do we share favorites? I hope so." In the Albert Campion books by Margery Allingham, I learned lugubrious, a good word to describe Eeyore.

A friend, with whom I showed this piece, shared her favorite: diaphanous, a word I associate with gothic horror stories for some reason.

From Hamlet came perchance, fust (to grow moldy, or go stale), contumely (abuse or humiliation), and fardles (burdens).

A few of my other favorites are ubiquitous (always there), mollycoddle, lagniappe, mizzle, hypotenuse, fortissimo, amanuensis, exiguous, sagacity, and perspicacious (another I learned from Doctor Who).

Do we share favorites? I hope so. Do you have your own favorites? Did I send you to a dictionary? I would love to hear from you with words you like, and how you found them. Also, if you are curious about any I did not define, and you can't find them, drop me a line. My e-mail address is at the bottom.

Copyright © 1998 by Karen L. Oberst

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