Do you spend much time thinking about your favorite words, calling each one to the forefront of your mind so that you can explain to yourself once again just how much that word delights you and why? I tend to have these little reunions with my old friends when I’m driving to work in the morning.
Allow me to introduce you to a few of them.
Lugubrious. Now, “lugubrious” is a fellow I love dearly, but I just can’t take him out in public. How I long for an opportunity to say, “I have a deep appreciation for the lugubrious musical stylings of the late poet-singer-song-writer Leonard Cohen,” but the opportunity never seems to present itself.
Pixilated. I was introduced to “pixilated” years ago in a work of regional fiction (Southern, I think, although it could have been New England). It was used to describe an eccentric old woman who behaved as though taking direction from pixies. I can’t imagine a more delightful way to live: charming and mischievous, with little thought given to responsibilities and no need to justify oneself. Unfortunately, I can never introduce “pixilated” into a conversation because she’ll always be mistaken for her homonym “pixelated,” what happens when your Netflix video starts breaking up.
Modality. “Modality” is one of those words that I am unable to take seriously because of the way it sounds. While I understand its place in the health care lexicon, I simply cannot say it with a straight face. I have to syllabicate it and put air quotes around it: “It is regrettable that the latest treatment ‘mo-‘dal-i-ty’ has had no salutary effect on her regrettable condition.”
Snark. I can appreciate “snark” because it connotes a certain agility of thought and facility with language that the simple passive aggression or petulance its cousin “sarcasm” lacks. Think of Samuel Johnson’s description of poet Edward Young’s poems: “Young froths, and foams, and bubbles sometimes very vigorously; but we must not compare the noise made by your teakettle here with the roaring of the ocean.”1
Buffoon. Now, as insults go, few come better than “buffoon.” So much more elegant than [expletive not inserted]. By far, my favorite use of the word was by a former colleague to describe a dysfunctional department. He referred to the department as a “cadre of buffoons,” going so far as to label them as such on a flip chart! They had a certain cohesion and delineation of roles that enabled them to function as a group, but individually and collectively they were completely inept.
And I’ll end with “edification,” which is what the purpose of this post should have been but wasn’t.
1 Jack Lynch, ed., Samuel Johnson’s Insults: A Compendium of Snubs, Sneers, Slights, and Effronteries from the Eighteenth-Centry Master (New York: Levenger Press, 2004), 68.
Image of Leonard Cohen by Rama, Wikimedia Commons.
Image of Cover, Samuel Johnson’s Insults, Levenger Press.