Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving leftovers

It's Thanksgiving evening and all's quiet here at the grammar ranch. Leftovers, and lots of them, have been stuffed into the fridge, and even the hum of the dishwasher has been stilled. So it's time to clean out some odds and ends from the Word Crank cornucopia. These are a few of my large collection of observations that never grew into a coherent article idea.

There are lots of words that tickle my fancy. Take "rebarbative." It means unattractive or aesthetically offensive. It comes from Old French for a confrontation "beard to beard." I don't know how that turned into art criticism, but I can just hear a curmudgeonly critic declaring "Surely you don't call that rebarbative hunk of metal sculpture." Devastating.

A better-known word that isn't used nearly enough is "odious." Reading a column that referred to "China's odious one-child policy," I was reminded of Susannah York in "A Christmas Carol" (my favorite version, with George C. Scott) calling Scrooge "an odious man," along other adjectives. She stretches out the initial "o" for several expressive beats— oooooodious.

Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit
A word that rolls around the mouth and over the tongue in a most delightful way is "imbroglio." You have to pronounce it right—imˈbrōlyō—and it helps to imitate Ms. York and spend some time on the second syllable. The word means a complicated situation, and implies something embarrassing or sticky enough perhaps to lead to a term of imprisonment. The original Italian means "a confused heap." An apt description of my kitchen at mid-afternoon.

I have a few hat tips to offer this Thanksgiving. A forgotten blogger wrote: "But when I read him back then, in the innocence of youth, the political references sailed lightly over my head. Now that I am taller, they slap me in the face." Now that's an effective image.

Jonah Goldberg wrote: "I feel a bit like a dog who suddenly realizes the car is heading to the vet, not the park." Oh, yeah. I know how he feels.

In a New York Times piece about perceived back-sliding from the sexual revolution, Erica Jong wrote: “We were unable to extinguish the lust for propriety.” Beautiful. 

For wonderful words and wordsmiths who create amazing pictures with them, I am truly grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Learn something every day! I'd never heard of "rebarbative". Nor had I seen the name of Erica Jong recently. I read FoF because I was curious about the buzz at the time, but nothing of hers since.