July 2011

Words Drive Us to Distraction

Carmageddon begins today. That’s what wags are calling the traffic nightmare that’s supposed to befall Los Angeles because of the three-day surgical closure of the Westside’s main artery, the 405 freeway. It might as well be called Karmageddon; it seems fitting that L.A.’s lifeblood mobility should come back to strangle it. Since we're avoiding the roads, we're left to transport ourselves with thought, and here’s one that seems apropos: the English language is a lot of fun. We can play with it endlessly, savoring its ancient words and idiosyncratic pronunciation, while concocting new terms sharp or sweet with meaning.
Wordlovers are forever coming up with their list of favorites. (Wordlover is no more a "proper" word than carma- or karmageddon, yet. It's just more descriptive than the more correct logophile. Common usage tolerates the violation. In fact it doesn't give a damn.) Deshoda.com, cribbing from a blog called So Much to Tell You, recently presented a selection of 100 of the “most beautiful” [http://bit.ly/qJvnfs]. Many selections shimmered on the (web)page – how can one argue with epiphany, sumptuous, or woebegone? Then there were “ailurophile” (meaning cat-lover) and “chatoyant” (like a cat’s eye). Uh … no. Honestly, when are you ever going to use those terms (and still have people willing to associate with you)?
Other offerings such as "ratatouille" made no sense at all. Love the word, love the dish, love the movie. But it’s purebred French. If that qualifies, then why not put Beaujolais on the list? Phooey is a more worthy candidate. Oh, well. Everyone spouts an opinion in a democracy, which English not incidentally fosters because it's inclined to let people follow their bliss. English is a mutt with French, Germanic, Latin, Greek and other parentage, and its best words tend to be resilient old simpletons and crazy bastards. Whatever their etymologies, English boasts an astounding hoard, more than half a million gems and nuggets, and its enterprising promiscuity adds to the trove each day like a smartphone does apps. If you're a certain kind of person it can leave you feeling a little giddy. (Does nerdy rhyme with wordy for a reason?) Bang, dazzle, glee, languid, mist, perky, pesky, pipsqueak, resplendence, sigh, silly, smidgen, soft, velvet, whimsy, whisper, zephyr … Whoa, I feel dizzy. Of them all, I particularly favor the word laugh. You can’t help but smile just saying, or even looking at, that word. It gladdens the heart. “Love,” “joy,” and “grace” prompt much the same response – how can you resist them? They’ll help see us through any -mageddon life throws at us.
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