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Monday, January 18, 2010

Those 3 Little Words

I often catch a little hell for my apparently exotic vocabulary. Now, I've never thought of my particular lexicon of words as anything particularly impressive, but I've heard from more than a few people that when they're either reading my work or listening to me talk, they feel as though they need a dictionary. I mean, I remember the kids in school that I used to feel that way about - and, trust me, I'm not comfortable with any of my friends looking at me like that. So rather than be persistently obtuse, I thought I'd share the three words you aren't currently using, but should be.

1. Ostensibly. Without a doubt, my favorite adverb. Most people that do use adverbs either overuse or misuse them, and many people don't use them at all. In fairness, they're often unnecessary, but in the right place, they can be some of the most efficient words you'll ever use. According to the dictionary, ostensibly means "from appearances alone or in a manner that is declared or pretended." And if you can't find a good example of that in our modern world, you've got bigger problems than vocabulary development.

2. Hyperbole. A fantastic noun, that has nothing to do with math (that's the hyperbola, and really isn't as scary as you think) and is one of the most mispronounced words I can think of. Phonetically it's hahy-pur-buh-lee, and it's really just a more artful way to say "exaggeration". In my mind, it's a step above simple exaggeration - in that, it's truly not intended to be taken seriously or literally. So, it's nice to have a word to use when you mean something a little stronger than simple pushing of the truth but also something that's also not intentionally deceptive - but rather illustrative in its outsized scale.

3. Enigmatic. My favorite adjective, and a deliciously artful word that conveys a subtle beauty that its synonyms all fail to. It has nothing to do with the downtempo electronica world beat music project that taught us all that sadness had more than one part. But it does have that same sort of old-world feel to it; like a word from a different time - back when mystery still had some cache. I think it's probably best used to describe a woman's personality (or a failure to have one), but it's certainly the sort of word you should use sparingly; it doesn't really occur that often and neither should the word.

A vocabulary is like a life-long book collection that tells the story of your intellectual development. We get words from and endless myriad of places, events, and other people; some we keep forever, others we (thankfully) discard when they become tired, affected or simply useless. But wherever they come from, they cognitively link our past to our present and future, and tell the story of who we are just as reliably as the stories themselves.

12 comments:

Shawn said...

3 words i cant even pronounce let alone use in my vocabulary.... Where is my [uh-sis-tuhns] with saying these words properly!!!

Jen and Tonic said...

OHMIGOD. Enigmatic is MY favorite adjective too. I also love using hyperbole, especially as I'm a person who tends to exaggerate things for effect.

Lucy said...

Ostensibly is my favorite!!! I absolutely love the way you describe "our vocabulary" it is very poetic and right on. Glen I would like to meet you in person at some point before you become famous, you are so smart!!!

Karen Soltero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Speaker said...

you left out copacetic, one of my personal favorites

Jimmy M said...

I use "ostensibly" all the time!

Glenn H. Truitt said...

Copacetic and serendipity... also great choices. Who else has got some???

Anonymous said...

(from Jessie)Glenn is the modern day, male version of Anne of Green Gables. I love it...great word choices but mine are clearly lacking right now. I AM glad that my 5 year old (who just turned 5 today) used the word 'rather' the other day. She's on her way...

John said...

I still like how you brought "douchebag" back from the 80s. It's like the Pepsi throwback!! Why have corn syrup when sugar is really better for us :)

Glenn H. Truitt said...

@ Jessie - 5 YEARS OLD?!? Wow... but happy to hear she's working the grown-up vocab already :)

@ John - I just wish I didn't HAVE to bring it back... unfortunately, until the movement dies, the word survives.

THANKS FOR THE LOVE, EVERYONE!!! New list tomorrow!

Danette said...

Who needs to have a dictionary with them when talking to you? You are the dictionary! And I am quite certain that you could even provide the origin should they want it. ;)

Jen said...

I feel about resistance vs. reticence the way you do about hyperbole vs. exaggeration. It’s a subtle difference in meaning but makes all the difference in the world when trying to express yourself fully.

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