October 18, 2014
To my shock and dismay I missed my favorite national holiday this week; World Dictionary Day, October 16. This very important day marks the birthday of Noah Webster, born in 1758 who published his first dictionary in 1806, although his most renowned work The Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was not published until 1828. Mr. Webster has been my tried and true idol for years. His published works have seen me through grade school spelling bees, high school literature classes, university term papers and most recently my daily challenge playing Words With Friends.
Words With Friends is a free Scrabble-like word game that you play against a competitor on a smart phone or tablet. Each player has a tile board of seven letters to play from and the object is to swirl the grey matter in your head and form words that will score the most points. When your opponent plays a word it automatically pings your mobile device causing you to break into a sweat and make an excuse to slip off to the first quiet corner to whip out your phone and see if you can come up with a quick return volley. I simultaneously love and loathe this game. The battleground of letters can turn friends into evil barons of wordplay in the blink of an eye. The learning curve is fierce and worthy opponents spend hours testing letters in various spots on the board for maximum points. It’s great fun and I am guilty of playing against up to twelve persons at any given time. We stretch one another’s vocabularies, sympathize over unplayable vowel trays and occasionally play a word for the giggle factor rather than the points. I am not alone in this addiction; once at my son’s baseball game the familiar ping sounded during a quiet moment and no less than eight parents in the stands reached into their pocket to pull out their phone.
Mr. Webster has been my steadfast companion in my daily Wordy competitions. I like to think it is not cheating – but some days I spend embarrassingly long periods of time with my reading glasses perched on the tip of my nose flipping the pages of my well worn Websters futilely attempting to find a word that starts with ui for example. (which I may add – there is one; uintaite) Most days I move letters into patterns on the game board arranging and rearranging and frequently when I submit some abnormal compilation of letters, the “Game Gods” surprisingly accept the oddity and I am forced to pull out Mr. Webster’s best seller and figure out what I just played. I’ve learned a plentitude of new words although admittedly few have become part of my every day vocabulary. It’s hard to throw out vox, vangs, qi, and qoph into a conversation around the water cooler, yet they appear daily amongst the experienced WWF enthusiasts.
Regardless of my predilection for utilizing Webster’s, which my offspring refer to as “old school”, my regard for Noah and his tenacious enthusiasm for words is profound. Imagine him sitting around his kerosene lamp at night piecing Latin vocabulary together and coming up with words and definitions! This task is utterly mind boggling when you think about it. Who would think to combine homo (from the Latin meaning human) and doxy (from Latin meaning opinion) and create the word Homodoxian (defined as a person who has the same opinion)? This seems particularly remarkable since in Noah’s time doxy also meant prostitute which leads you to speculate where his mind wandered occasionally when the Latin became dull.
I have to wonder how Noah’s definitions would differ in today’s world and if perhaps some of his more obscure words could be “redefined” and become part of our everyday vocabulary again.
BOUFFAGE (n.), “an enjoyable or satisfying meal” surely would now be defined as “overly large flowers pinned into a woman’s hair in a feeble attempt to emulate a Greek goddess.”
OBAMBULATE (v.) meaning “to walk about,” would become “the act of droning on to an unappreciative audience your feelings regarding the Obama administration.”
FARD (v.) “to paint the face with makeup to hide a blemish” would definitely be a word not allowed at the dinner table.
HUGGER-MUGGER (n.) “a state of noisy confusion or uproar” would obviously be “those friendly people you don’t know well but whom insist upon hugging you inappropriately at every social event.”
LOGINQUITY (n.) “remoteness or isolation” clearly means “the inability to remember one’s password when logging into Amazon.com.”
RAKESHAME (n.) “A vile, dissolute wretch” could be “that neighbor who should have used a rake but instead runs his leaf blower before 9:00 a.m. on Saturday.”
TARDIGRADOUS (adj.) “Slow-paced; moving or stepping slowly.” I am fairly certain that this has already been translated at my son’s high school as “being castigated by performing one hour of detention for every three tardy entrances to a class or having your grade drop by one letter.”
So I challenge all of you this week, in honor of Noah Webster, to find terminology which is outdated and unused OR create a new word and use it regularly in conversation. Put away the tired, over-worked verbiage and orate fresh words – there are so many exceptional choices!!!! Your friends, family and co-workers will be dumbfounded and awed by your brilliance and although they may not reach for their dog eared copy of Webster’s Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, they may at least Google the meaning and thus the language of men (and women) will flourish.