As a newspaper editor and mystery novelist, I’m by necessity also a student of language. I’m fascinated by the information I come across about words and the ways they’re used.
Did you know, for example, nikhedonia describes the emotion you experience when you’re playing a game or watching your favorite sports team compete and realize you or your team is about to win. Unfortunately for me and my fellow Denver Broncos fans, we seldom anticipate success. Especially come the fourth quarter.
How about crapulence? The word sounds every bit as dreadful as its definition for the sickness or indisposition that results from excess drinking or eating.
I suspect a lack of nikhedonia leads to crapulence. Particularly on Monday mornings.
I also found on the internet a list of slang terms from the 1930s. In the event you’re wondering what happens when some kaylied up nogoodnik blows your wig at the juke, it means a troublesome drunk infuriates you at a nightclub.
I’m determined, by the way, to perpetuate some of the other slang terms on the list through their more frequent use, including gobsmacked and cockamamie. Those are good words.
What really caught my attention, though, was a news release I received about a book written by Jo Anne Preston titled “Lead the Way in Five Minutes a Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team.” A workforce and organizational development manager, Preston believes business executives and other leaders should pay more attention to what they say and how they say it. It’s difficult to argue with that. The news release went on to enumerate the common words and phrases leaders use that turn people off. The list made me wince. Which, I guess, was the point.
Consider, for example, subordinate. That applies to anyone who works for or reports to someone else. But the word sounds about as appealing as minion or flunky. How many people want to put one of those titles on their business cards? As the sole member of the editorial staff at the newspaper where I work, I could be subordinate-in-chief.
Here’s a phrase from the list. “I’m a perfectionist.” Oh really? Or does that actually mean you hold others to unrealistically high expectations you wouldn’t impose upon yourself? Rather than strive for perfection, shouldn’t we all strive for excellence? That leaves room for recognition for jobs well done, even when they aren’t perfect.
I’m fortunate to communicate most often in writing. That enables me to choose more carefully the words I use. Or is it assess or select? There are a lot from which to choose. By one estimate, there are more than 750,000 words in the English lexicon. Many are versatile. Few are interchangeable. The American writer and humorist Mark Twain supposedly equated the difference between the almost right word and the right word to the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.
As a newspaper editor and mystery novelist, I advocate for clear and compelling communication. I admit, though, I’m seduced by obscure words even though I know I should avoid the huckmuck that results from ackamarackus or nitwittery.
Go ahead. Look it up. If you’re as much a student of language as I am, I bet you want to.