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The Cultural Tutor

Areopagus: Lexicology Edition

Published about 1 year ago • 11 min read

Areopagus — Readers' Lexicon

Welcome one and all to... a slightly different instalment of the Areopagus. O Fortuna, thou art fickle! Last week I asked you this:

What is your favourite word, and why?

I received a flood of fascinating followups. And so, though I had planned this week to write about the coronation of King Charles III (or, rather, along lines related to coronations and kingships in all their guises) I realised it would be unconscionable not to share the fabulous lexicon with which my inbox has been filled over the last seven days.

Language is a rich heritage. We have hundreds of thousands of words at our disposal. Ernest Hemingway said "one dollar" words are best. Perhaps he's right. But, sometimes, "ten dollar" words are better. Because when you can name something you can also perceive it. Then you can think about it. And then your engagement with both yourself and the world around you is deepened. They are powerful things, these collections of lines and symbols we call words, so we shouldn't be afraid of delving into the lesser-known realms of our dictionaries and thesauruses. As Quintilian once wrote:

Some, again, make the contrary practice their study, shunning and shrinking from all such charms... and approving nothing but what is plain, and humble, and without effort. Thus, while they are afraid that they might sometimes fall, they are always creeping on the ground.

Let us not be afraid of falling, then! And so, to fill the coffers of your linguistic treasury, I present a readers' lexicon of your very favourite words...


Before we commence, I couldn't help include a little music. Something to play as you read, perhaps.

I offer it without context. Simply something I've been listening to this week: Antonín Dvořák's 7th Symphony, of which this is the second movement, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. The painting comes from The Slav Epic, a twenty-part series by Dvořák's compatriot, the many-talented artist Alphonse Mucha.

Now, with the proverbial needle of the turntable falling, time to open your notebook...

Ibai A

My favourite word (or one of them, at least) is "amalgama", one Spanish term for blend or mixture. Its 4 syllabes, all spelled with an "a", make it a soundful word at least. Its medieval-latin origin, that comes from the old greek word málagma=softener or from the arab al-chama=meeting (depending where you consult), also contribute to its charm.

Another favourite, this time in Basque (my native tongue) is "pinpilinpauxa". This dinamic and onomatopeyic term, suggesting its manner of flying, applies to... butterflies, that also in English are named after its way to fly!

Chelsea T

My favourite word is ‘confelicity’. I love the idea of being selflessly happy, just content to see those around you experiencing joy.

Joe M

In English it would be ameliorate, its meaning is an attraction but i also love how it rolls around the mouth when you stress the five syllables. In German it would be lebensmittelgeschaft literally a grocers shop but translates as "living in the middle of the business" - efficient, bustling and bonkers (to English speakers) at the same time. In Latin it would be agricola as it was the first word that my 12 yr old self could directly relate to an english word and instilled in me a love of the genealogy of words. In Italian it would be abbraccio... who doesnt love a hug? and lastly in Gaelic it would be flaithiúlach meaning lavish or generous but in common usage more "a fool and his money are soon parted" - my mother (a Dubliner with little irish) would use this when i would spend all my money on some frippery leaving me penniless for the week "well, would ya look at Mr. flaithiúlach..."

Thomas B

My favourite word is BENEVOLENT. As someone who had Latin in school it's an english word that shows how much we still have from the roots of our language. Second, I like the sound and the rythm and third it's the main characteristic that I am looking for in a human, someone who assumes people are and want the good rather than the bad, even if they don't succeed.

Pamela D

My favourite word has always been 'gloam'. It's pleasing to say, and I'm Scottish so when I see it I automatically pronounce a slightly shorter 'o', bringing my family near. Glow and loam are already evocative, even before you've even started to picture dusk, a dusk combining the sinking gold of the day and a danger-filled night. So much better than 'twilight'.

Dee K

As for a favorite word, mine is pulchritudinous. While in college, I was struck with Bell’s Palsy. Having lost control of half of my face, my young adult self esteem took a turn for the worse. One friend took great pains to give me compliments and boost my morale. One of the daily affirmations included something about my “pulchritudinous persona” and it changed the way I thought about my facial disability. May we all find ways to use our beautiful personas to help others as much as my friend did in that instance.

Ed D

My favourite word: SERENDIPITY. While not quite onomatopoeia; to me, it sounds like what it describes. It starts out rather serious and thoughtful, but ends up a silly romp, and you just can't help smiling and enjoying that "dipity"... heeheehee!

Maxime S

My favorite word is intersubjectivity, a word with many meanings, most of which focus on the relation between people's cognitive perspectives. Just as perspectives vary widely, so do the meanings ascribed to this word, which adds a nice amount of irony. It also means something different in German than it does in English. I learned it in journalism school when we discussed objectivity (which doesn't exist) vs subjectivity (which journalists should avoid in most cases). Intersubjectivity was presented as optimal solution, where you include enough voices to cover the entire range of opinions so that the reader can pick or form their opinion based on journalistic reporting without too much biase - which I found worthwhile to try to achieve.

Robert F

Here’s my favorite word: butterfly. Why? Because in all the languages I know it’s a completely different, yet equally beautiful word.

FR: papillon, IT: farfalle, SP: mariposa, DE: Schmetterling, NL: vlinder, RU: babochka.

Completely different, yet they all have a beautiful. sound. Normally one would expect a Germanic and a Roman root. But not with butterfly.

Jill M

Liminal.

I like the way it flows from the mouth with soft movements. I like the concept of liminal spaces, of thresholds, whether physical or psychological. In the transitional moment, all is possible.

Alison B

Anfractuous—an adjective meaning sinuous or circuitous—because it has a lilting sound to it, which is almost anfractuous in itself.

A runner up is catachresis, I just like knowing that there is a word out there that means to use a word wrong, and that it itself has likely been used wrong many times.

Chris C

My daughter immediately said her favourite word is "parsimony" because in the company of the word "elegant", it is the highest to which one can aspire in terms of prose (ie theoretical frameworks, legal opinions) gesture drawings (in fine art), codas, poetry, apologies, and sartorial splendor. She once heard someone say that the ultimate achievement in academia is an elegant parsimony of composition. And as she's in the last tortuous months of writing her PhD, she is striving towards that end.

Charles G

Transmogrification.

It is not really a favorite word and I am sure I have never used it in speech or writing. But it immediately popped into my head when I read your question of the week. The phoneme “mog” sounds a little monstrous as Tolkien recognized in naming The Hobbit dragon Smaug. So the world might be better suited for telling of a handsome prince or fair damsel turning into some frightening evil rather than the other way around.

Serena S

I have several favorite words; in fact, I have a list in my notes app on my phone of all of them, and the songs that they appear in. A lot of my favorite words have come from listening to songs from my favorite bands.

The very first word I came to love is primeval. In my sophomore year of high school (now a junior in college), I was assigned to create a t-shirt in my English class. I chose to add the phrase “primeval heartbeat.” Primeval appears in “Starlight” by Starset; it’s a beautiful song. The full lyric is:

Primeval, we’re coupled
Born from the universe

The way the word is articulated in the song is so beautiful, which made me fall in love with it. The most recent word I added to the list is adularescence, which is the play of light seen in the opalescent Moonstone. Pretty, no? In total, there are 23 words in the list. I wish I could tell them all, but alas, I cannot.

Jayme

Poltroon

Used mostly a century ago, I love using it in written messages because it stimulates that reach for the dictionary... It means "coward", of which there are many today, and thus the opportunities are many for insertion as a rousing descriptor!

Chris S

Sesquipedalian. Leaving aside its etymology, there is a poetry in this many syllabled word being used to describe a many syllabled word.

Vickie T

My favorite word is a saudade. Longing, nostalgia, yearning, missing, the word is used beautifully in many love songs.

James T

Without doubt my favourite word is ’Sonder’, not for the way the word sounds, or for the way it looks written down. It is my favourite word because of its meaning. I think I fell in love when I heard what it meant for the first time, as it resonated so deeply with me. The definition I always go back to (and is always in my mind when I go about my daily business) is 'the sudden realisation that everyone else’s life, including the passerby in the street, is as detailed and complex as your own.' This word can be applied to so many situations, and as a motivation for being a better person. Treat people with kindness because you don’t know what’s going on in their complicated lives.

Rod R

My favourite word is EFFLUCTED . It was hardly ever set down in writing but was spoken . ie. He or she had been ''efflucted''. It meant that a certain person had moved up a notch in their status as an employee . As a senior lecturer in a college when I was efflucted I received an increase in my salary . It was rather like passing through . I think that is where the word and its association with effluent was coined by someone in the college where I worked .

Sandro S

My favourite word is the German word for air: Luft. It feel it to be very onomatopoeic, just as light and breezy as that which it describes. Also, it’s fun to say because depending on how „hard“ you pronounce the „f“, it sounds like air being pressed out of an air mattress.

David B

'Apology' has an amusing etymology. It comes from the Greek apologia (apo "away from, off" + logos "speech") and it originally meant 'to judiciously and formally defend something.' In one of the most famous Greek apologies, The Apology of Socrates, Plato vigorously defended his mentor against accusations of corrupting the Athenian youth.

It's not clear when or why 'apology' came to mean the exact opposite: 'a complete concession and admission of fault.' Many point the finger at Shakespeare. One of the earliest recorded modern uses of 'apology' comes from Richard III: "My lord, there needs no such apology. I do beseech your Grace to pardon me."

So, the next time you must give a good apology, double down! (Kidding of course, humility is a virtue.)

Manorath T

When talking about my favorite word, it kind of sends me into a state of loneliness. Not because I am taken aback by the question, but because now I am too detached from the world around me, thinking about every single word I came across. But one word that has always stayed with me is "Monachopsis", defined as the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place. The reason why I say that it is my favorite word is that even though the word defines a state of not belonging anywhere, ironically, I have never felt more belongingness to anything else in my life than this one word. And it is evident that Monachopsis is in fact my favorite word, because I have it tattooed on my arm.

Deborah G

One of my favorite words is shish-kabobs. When I switched my career to elementary school teaching, I had to get rid of my potty mouth. I trained myself to say shish-kabobs whenever surprised, frustrated, etc. instead of the words I had been using. The 4th graders loved it, and sometimes even children from other classes would come up on the playground, stand in front of me, shout “shish-kabobs” and collapse in a fit of giggles. That word completely charmed them. Now that I am retired, I don’t need to watch my mouth, but naturally that word slips out from time to time. Turns out lots of adults also react with smiles and giggles. It’s a fun word to say, and has a lighthearted feeling.

Chris M

Crepuscular.

For me this is with particular reference to the rays of light shooting across the sky during twighlight hours.
I journey back to those balmy days of 1976 when my senses were bombarded by a summer like no other.
Long bike rides with great friends to far flung places, sun kissed prickly skin and the smell of scorched grass filling the air. Shards of light bursting across the evening sky. Halcyon days that are still fresh in my memory when ever I catch a glimpse of those stunning crepuscular rays. Happy happy days.

Mike M

My favorite word is concomitantly. Although it means simultaneously, the word (to me as a very literal thinker) has a softer, squishier, more flexible feel to its at-the-same-timeness.

Example A. I am a high school teacher. Concomitantly, I am studying online for a Master's Degree. (a true example)

Example B. Today, in our Department's workroom, a colleague and I were conversing about an incident that happened yesterday in the cafeteria. At the same time, another teacher was killing trees a few feet away at our copier/printer while two other teachers were laughing at a joke one told the other. (a fictional example)

Although I might be able to use concomitantly in the second example, I used "at the same time" because, in that example, I meant "AT THE VERY SAME TIME", not the flexible squishiness of "along with that also" which is what I meant in the first example.

The English language allows its speakers to be very specific when we want to be. When we mean at the same time but not necessarily in the exact same moment of time, we can use concomitantly. As I do. Occasionally.

Bill C

So many words to love, but umbrageous is good to introduce into learned and uninteresting conversation to see who has the courage to ask what it means, rather than just nodding wisely.

Jason A

My favorite word is peripatetic. It lends a cheery, almost wistful sense of adventure, conjuring images of hobos sequestered on night trains and R. Crumb’s “Keep On Truckin’.”

Analise S

Vapid. There's an excitement to words that start with V, a spunky elegance, and I've long since been drawn to them. But, what I particularly love about this little word is how expressive and interesting it is, and how that contrasts its meaning. Isn't it nice that we can speak of bland things so colorfully?

Toby B

Succinct…it’s enough.


Question of the Week

And for this week's question, from favourite words to critical thinking:

What is the ideal political system and why?

Email me your answers and I'll share them in next week's newsletter.


And that's all

In this treasury of words I hope you find both delight and utility. The two can be reconciled, I believe, and in words we have the most delightful and useful tools of all. But they are powerful, and so we must choose them carefully. This week's volume has, perhaps, given us a few more options.

With that I leave you and wish you well — good morning, good day, and good night, wherever you are in the world. The Areopagus shall return next Friday in its usual form.

Yours,

The Cultural Tutor

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