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Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Please tell me you're one of those people who love looking up words in dictionaries. Good. Thanks for that. I like to imagine that all our readers are the kind of people who love looking up words in dictionaries. And because of that, none of you will find this post in the least boring. Ideally you'll spend the next hour figuring out a way to casually use floccinaucinihilipilification in a conversation. I know it's hard but believe me: when the moment comes it will be rewarding. Yes, this post will probably go down as a rant and if it must then it better go down as an awesome rant because it's a rant about one of LHNA's favourite things in the world after good music and popcorn-flavoured jellybeans: words. Old words. New words. Mostly new words. Invented words. Words we love because they sound funny and words we love because they sound smart and pretentious. Words that look good on paper but you never know how to pronounce them. Words that are not included in dictionaries but should be because they are the definition of awesomeness - kind of like "awesomeness" itself. Or Magnetic Fields' by now fabled "unboyfriendable". But let's pause. I must explain first.

English is not my native language. It's not even my second language. Which means that most of my knowledge of it was acquired through a) reading, b) listening to song lyrics and c) paying attention to my amazing English teacher once in a while. Which also means that since the language acquisition didn't happen naturally (as with children picking up their mother tongue) it followed a weird path: I knew what "stigmatize" and "atrophy" meant before I knew what "hammer" or "smog" did. ("smog? smoke and fog? seriously???") Thus once in a while I get to experience the joy of finally stumbling upon one of those basic words that everyone knows yet it somehow managed to avoid crossing my path. I remember how ecstatic I was, one rainy evening maybe a year or so ago, when Steven explained that there was actually a handy word for my usual "a little bit of rain": drizzle. Drizzle! Oh happy happy word! On the other hand, around the same time I also remember the glory of discovering the amazing "estivate", a word that gets even more magnificence points for having the latin-reminiscent alternative spelling "aestivate" - SO much better than the word hibernate! I could go on and on and on, but now that I've explained how happy new words make me let me get to the musical part of this post. Here it is, my pearl of wisdom for today: song lyrics = words in a foreign language you will never forget. That's right, I'm indeed suggesting that instead of paying a lot of money on all those language-learning CDs and private schools you should just listen to some bands you love and look up all the words you don't know in a dictionary. Do the same with books and you're set. You'll never need another foreign language lesson in your life. Mind you, for this to work, you can't listen to "Umbrella" all day (although the use of "hydroplane" as a verb coupled with "entity" in one of the most popular songs of 2008 is not nothing). Thank goodness there are some great, witty, eloquent lyricists out there that can really help. If you haven't decided on the language choose something like Swedish or Spanish: you'll have even more of an advantage because of the sheer amount of great bands coming from those countries. And yes, many of them sing in their own languages! I can certify that there is no better feeling in the world than when a song you love forces you to look up a word - a word which you will forever remember because you will associate it with said song. So this post is dedicated to some of the bands that taught me new words, helped me better understand words I already knew, and made opening dictionaries fun.

These next words I discovered through songs, most of them a long time ago. I remember them because I cannot use any of these words without the correspondent song lyrics popping into my head every time:

chaparral = an area of dry land that is covered with small bushes
I first found it in: "There's rattlers in this roundabout, they come in from the chaparral" (Diane Cluck - The Turnaround Road)

penchant = a special liking for sth syn fondness
first found it in: "Where did you get that penchant for destruction in the way you talk?" (Destroyer - Painter in Your Pocket)

bolster = to improve sth or make it stronger: to bolster sb’s confidence / courage / morale
first found it in: "We've got the American Jesus bolstering national faith" (Bad Religion - American Jesus)

vicissitude = (formal) one of the many changes and problems in a situation or in your life, that you have to deal with
first found in: "Vicissitudes are boxing our head" (Of Montreal: Suffer for Fashion)

thaw = (of ice and snow) to turn back into water after being frozen syn melt
first found in: "My heart has thawed and continues to beat" (Bright Eyes: June on the West Coast)

refectory = a large room in which meals are served, especially in a religious institution and in some schools and colleges in Britain
first found in: "Find me and follow me though corridors, refectories" (Franz Ferdinand - The Dark of the Matinee)

baneful = (literary) evil or causing evil
first found in: "I've been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful" (Morrissey - Irish Blood, English Heart)

perforate = to make a hole or holes through sth
first found in: "I was standing on the surface of a perforated sphere" (Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism)

debonair = (old-fashioned) usually of men: fashionable and confident, having a sophisticated charm
first found it in: "You had a charming air, all cheap and debonair" (The Decemberists - The Old Mariner's Revenge Song)

(Parenthesis. There are so many words I first became acquainted with through Colin Meloy's lyrics: debonair, roustabout, wanton, pinion, picaresque, kith, gadabout, sinews, indolent, the list goes on and on. So to honour them I will utter a little prayer to the almighty Decemberists: "Thank you, oh omnipotent Gods, for paying attention in school and reading books and watching movies and being cool and doing whatever it is that you do that allows you to make such an amazing use of vocabulary in your songs. May you forever be with us to guide us through the literacy crisis and protect us from the evil Killers and the Shakiras of this world and their murdering of the English language. Amen.")

Fantabulous site for the day:

Favorite words at the moment:
floccinaucinihilipilification (you have to laugh at the undisguised pretentiousness of that word)


Anonymous said...

I love words. I love dictionaries. I love this post.

Favourite word: reconnaissance

Eliza K. said...

reconnaissance: good one, I didn't even know that :)

EdgeOfNowhere said...

this post is brilliant and I agree w/its sentiment. I remember learning "genius" in Chinese was "heaven's idiot." Similar, in a way, to your discovery of "drizzle" - one word can capture so much meaning.