Home of the Bellingwood Series – Nammynools

Oh Words, You Vex Me

TB likes words too. This was taken in 2013 – Book 3’s manuscript.

For the last week I’ve been head down in an online course taught by a Brit. Consequently, the pronunciation of words that ramble around my mind is a bit off-kilter. I may never be able to say some of these words correctly again.

I’ve also been completely caught up in the Maisie Dobbs series of books by Jacqueline Winspear. Set in London during the early twentieth century (1913 – 1939), I’ve been inundated with vocabulary that requires me to tap on the dictionary function of my Kindle. While I have a pretty good grasp of language and can generally intuit a word’s meaning from context, there’s nothing more fun for me than to be introduced to new words.

Today, as I attended a webinar led by this British speaker, he posted a slide that used the word instalment. As soon as it arrived on the screen, some helpful Hannah typed a comment regarding the typo. Well. No. Not really.  A moderator quickly posted back that in ‘English,’ it was not misspelled, which made me laugh out loud.

I believe that this points out several pieces of learning we should embrace.

  1. English is an incredibly fascinating language.
  2. American English is a young language, yet has bastardized many different languages and cultural references. Our way isn’t necessarily the right way for anyone but us.
  3. Discovering all we can about words, language, and etymology makes us smarter and increases our ability to communicate.
  4. By the way, we’re not always as smart as we think we are.

As immense as my vocabulary is, I recognize that I have barely tapped into the breadth of the English language.

Have you ever played the game “Balderdash”? You receive a card with a word and everyone writes down their definition. Points are awarded to those definitions that sound good enough to get people to believe they’re correct.

The first time I played that game, I was floored by the number of words I’d not yet experienced. Not just obscure words that dropped out of circulation or scientific terms, but words that just never made it into my circle of knowledge. That was quite distressing to someone who treasures words as much as I do.

My mother loved words more than anyone I’ve ever know. Her favorite thing to do, though, was to mash them to pieces and spit them back out, causing no end of conflict in her children’s vocabulary when in front of a teacher in school … or friends … or when leading a group … you know. Just plain trouble.

To this day, I have trouble saying the word rhinoceros.  Say the word quietly in your head for a moment. The accent is on the second syllable, right?

Well, not for me. Mom always pronounced it as rhi’ – no – sore – ass. Consequently (and it’s surprising how often this comes up), I begin the word with the accent on the first syllable and have to stop myself and start over. Sure, I could shorten the word to rhino, but that’s not usually what happens.

I’m still embarrassed about the day I argued with an office mate about a word I’d heard my entire life. He insisted that it wasn’t a real word. I pushed back. He sent me to the dictionary.

Stallfoundered is not a real word.

Thanks, Mom. It might be a great word, but nobody else uses it.

So this week, I’m embracing British pronunciations and learning words such as costermonger. I’m in no hurry to leave this headspace. It’s kind of fun. I have yet to exchange an ‘s’ for a ‘z’ in words like apologize (apologise) or add back the ‘u’ in words such as honor. British English adds an additional ‘l’ sometimes when adding ‘ing’ (travelling or fuelling- American English is traveling or fueling). Then I discover that somehow we’ve added those lost ‘l’s to install or enthrall.

I enjoy the fact that the world is filled with inconsistencies and differences. It makes things more interesting. We aren’t all the same. We haven’t completely homogenized our cultures to bland and boring.

What’s one thing about language (s) that fascinates you? I’m not asking what frustrates you – that’s a topic for another day. Something that you just love.


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