Words, Sweet Words

This week saw a first: the Scripps Spelling Bee had a tie! This happened after the final two contestants each spelled 12 of the championship words without mistake. Then, in a dramatic moment, one of the fellows misspelled his word: CORPSBRUDER (a close comrade). A gasp went up as the bell announced his failure to spell the word. The last man standing then proceeded to misspell his word: ANTEGROPELOS (waterproof leggings). At that point, the judges, who were almost out of championship words, declared the bee a tie and each fellow received a trophy and $33,000.


2014 Scripps Spelling Bee Winners

I always find this interesting because I dearly love words. Some words are more favored over others. For instance I truly love the phrases high jinx and doo-dah, and the word mellifluous. Great words can be found in some unexpected places. For example, my class in medical terminology uncovered such fabulous finds as acetabulum, trichotillomania, myelomeningocele, and on and on. And doesn’t the word proctologist sound just like it should? The amusement over medical terms has created several lists defining these terms. For example, a list from some imaginary “Redneck Medical Dictionary” lists the following definitions, to cite only a few: bacteria = back door of hospital cafeteria; artery = study of art; protein = in favor of youth; rectum = nearly killed ‘em.


I like the sound of the word nebulous for some unknown reason. I used to pepper my sentences with it whenever it fit (which was amazingly quite often). One day a friend instructed me that I was overusing the word and no one knew what it meant anyway . . . and (knife to my heart) it made me appear holier-than-thou when I used it. I suppose it made me sound pseudo-scholarly, which phrase I like for its hissing sounds. It is so much more fun than pseudo-intellectual, which I could never be since I am truly so outrageously intelligent. If you don’t believe me, you should have asked my mother. I really had her fooled.


The Fabulous Crab Nebula

Speaking of pseudo, Starbucks has created an entire vocabulary that has us thinking we have made friends with our inner Italian. We toss such words as macchiato and frappuccino around with such abandon, continuing with our java-Italian by requesting that drink to be “grande . . .  no, no . . . make that venti . . .  no, no . . .  what the heck . . . make it a trenta!” Such moments make me sad that I left my soccer shin guards and my beret at home. Food, in itself is an entire United Nations of terms: vichyssoise, borscht, aperitif, flan, bouillabaisse, schnitzel, and farfalle.

I have always believed that one should never talk down to children. So I spoke to them just like I would have chatted with an adult. This led to a Kodak moment in the grocery store with my three children. The store was crowded with Saturday’s parade of working moms, pushing carts down the aisles like a platoon. My children sped on ahead of me rounding the end of the aisle and moving down into the next. I could hear their voices and whining from one aisle over. Within seconds, Stacy, all of three years old with hands on her hips, came to head of the aisle and shouted, “MOM!” which caused every woman in the aisle to look up. When she found my face she screamed: “Make the brothers quit antagonizing me!” Suddenly all eyes were on me; I’d like to think this was with envy over my toddler’s precocious vocabulary, but a few stares had an edgy look as if they might turn me in to DCFS for child abuse by use of highfalutin’ language. By third grade, her teacher told me in confidence that she had a better vocabulary than most of the parents of her classroom children.


Interestingly enough, it wasn’t Stacy, but Scott, my middle child, who became fascinated with words. He would look words up in one of those HUGE dictionaries that lived in the back of his Latin class. Then he would spring those words on me, much like the kids in the spelling bee. “Use it in a sentence,” I would say, with a confounded look on my face. When his Latin teacher, a jolly and patient Jesuit priest, retired he gave Scott the big old dictionary. I will always love him for being so special to Scott and acknowledging that Scott was, indeed, a sesquipedalian. And that, my friends, is my most favorite word.