I’ve realized reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel that my vocabulary is abyssmal. (Notice how I did that, using a fun word?)
In school, we always had to memorize the lists of vocabulary words, use them in sentences, and spell them correctly. We even had old-fashioned print dictionaries! (I still have several, actually.)
No one bothers much with spelling anymore, assuming some computer function will fix everything. Ever had a funny miscommunication because of auto-correct in a text message changing what you meant to say? Yeah, me too.
As I have written, I am in a current Wolfe-worship phase (see Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said and I’m not obsessive, I’m passionate (or, I’m stalking Thomas Wolfe). In his wonderfully crafted writing, he uses a lot of words that I have to look up. Some of them are really awesome (I need a synonym for that one), but not so easy to fit into conversation in our “modern times”. Of course, Wolfe thought he was living in modern times. It’s always modern times at the time…
In 1982, Moon Unit Zappa released her novelty song Valley Girl.
The a year later, the movie Valley Girl came out.
I was in my early 20s at the time, and thought the ridiculous way of talking was a joke or would go away. It hasn’t, and it’s spread. “Like” as a substitute for every part of speech is ubiquitous (see, I did it again), and it’s an increasing phenonmenon that Americans end their sentences with an uplift, as if everything is a question. I am guilty of falling into the speech pattern myself. “I was, like,… and then he was, all, like, …” instead of “I said… and then he said…”
In an effort to become more erudite (love that one), I once signed up for the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Day e-mail. But the e-mail always got lost in the shuffle, or I promptly forgot the word by the next day (or hour). Urban Dictionary was more fun, but not quite what I had in mind in terms seeming smarter. As in book smart, not street smart. No one who knows me would ever call me street smart!
I’ve started keeping a list of words from Wolfe’s writing as they strike me (and as I have to look them up in the dictionary). I am under no illusions that I will start using these words in regular conversation; I feel misunderstood much of the time already. But the beauty and power of words is something we sometimes forget. I love this quote from writer Diane Setterfield:
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
Wolfe himself clearly loved words. It is said that editor Maxwell Perkins worked over almost two years helping Wolfe cut 60,000 words from the original, vast manuscript of the book.
Here are a few of my favorites that I have run across that survived the editorial pencil.
pullulation, as in “The limitless land, wood, field, prairie, desert, mountain…the ceaseless pullulation of the sea.” It has to do with abundance.
stertorous, as in stertorous breathing–rasping, snoring
scrofulous: Wolfe uses it a lot as the fictional town of Altamont is a place where people went to recover (or die) from tuberculosis; he uses it to refer to people who don’t look well. It sounds like you wouldn’t look well if you were scrofulous.
debauch: to corrupt
rapscallion: one of my favorites and often used with the kittens–mischievous
inchoate: rudimentary; immature
rapacious: aggressively greedy
I fear the post is verging on the somniferous. In other words, I’m like, probably, you know, boring you and stuff like that? So I’m, like, going to bed now?
Peace and hugs.