Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Be Warned !! I Have a Loaded Vocabulary and I'm Not Afraid to Use It !

"I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person."

William Odom, PhD
Professor of Enemy Languages
University of Southern Mississippi

Most of you know I work at our local Walmart. I will try very hard not to make generalizations, but many of my coworkers find it amusing to castigate, tease, and occasionally insult me for my vocabulary. I am certain most of you have encountered this sort of puzzling prejudice in your lives. 

"Why do you use them big words. Nobody understands that crap."

"You just do that to make yourself sound smart."

"Why can't you talk like a normal person?"

I find the last one especially funny as I have never in my life claimed to be normal. Not being normal used to bother me a great deal. Now I thank God I am not. Have you seen what "normal" looks like at Walmart? There are days I wish I could come home, take my eyeballs out, and wash them in peroxide. (Shudder!)

Can I go full-blown, Scarlett O'Hara when I need to? You bet your Rhett BUTTler I can. Especially when talking to visiting Walmart executives from the home office. Turns them into melting butterballs in my hands. My store manager almost chokes on his tongue when I do, as I tend to go hard-ass, college educated bitch when speaking to him on a daily basis. The guy deserves it. (Ancient Rome called. They want their emperor back.)
When necessary a smart-mouthed, redneck, trailer trash heifer shows up and takes care of business. It isn't pretty and I lose IQ points when I do it, but needs must when the devil takes the wheel. Or to quote Stephen King (a man who knows his way around a good word) "Sometimes being a high flying bitch is all a woman has going for her."

Part of being an opera singer, hell a musician at all, is being able to assimilate sound and send it back into the world exactly as it was given to you - by music on a page or by extremely acute auditory memory skills. I have studied eight languages other than English in my life. I can sing in about twelve. When I say sing, I mean sing with such accentual accuracy native speakers are fooled. It isn't that big a deal. Parrots, magpies and mockingbirds can do it. (How does a two-hundred pound parrot insult you? Any way she wants with a variety of colorful phrases - most of them involving your mother and a goat.)

I once told a coworker who threatened me he didn't have the "testicular fortitude" to do something that ridiculous. The poor guy is probably still scratching his head over that one. Which must be a nice break for his "testicular fortitude."

My father was fond of saying, "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with BS !"

Some days it takes a little of both!

I collect words. Or rather I collect books about words - dictionaries, thesauruses, books on Regency era slang, etymological dictionaries. When I am reading I keep a journal at hand. When I come across a great word, especially in historical romance, I enter it in my journal. I usually include the sentence in which it was used, the book title and author. Later I look the word up and write down the definition. Finding a great new word is like finding a gorgeous new pair of shoes. In your size. Half off.

If you want to have some fun, check out some of the "word" books in my collection.

The Superior Person's Book of Words by Peter Bowler
The Superior Person's Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words by Peter Bowler
The Superior Person's Third Book of Well-Bred Words by Peter Bowler

All three of these are hilarious, enlightening and loads of fun. I have a number of books on Regency era slang and will happily provide a list to anyone who is interested.    

If you haven't guessed by now, I love words and language. I love the written word, the spoken word, and all of the musical rhythms they sing into our lives and our imaginations. Words can create worlds, they can touch our hearts, heal or wound our souls. Words are the beginning of every great idea and every great endeavor in the history of the world. They are the foundations of religions and governments, cloisters and empires. They encompass our roots and ancestries. They fuel our dreams and waft our wings up and out into every possibility our hearts dare to pursue.

When you are a writer words become your paint brush, your lover, your taskmaster, your sword, your muse, your jailer, your keyboard, your heart, your soul and your co-conspirator in the weaving of tales of adventure, romance, mystery, fantasy and every secret thing you want to share with the world.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

 “There is music in words, and it can be heard you know, by thinking.”
E.L. Doctorow, Homer & Langley

“The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power.”
Francis Bacon 

“I shall tell you what I believe. I believe God is a librarian. I believe that literature is holy...it is that best part of our souls that we break off and give each other, and God has a special dispensation for it, angels to guard its making and its preservation.”
Sarah Smith, Chasing Shakespeares  

and my favorite, quoted on the opening page of my website

But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew, upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
'Tis strange, the shortest letter which man
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper - even a rag like this -
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that's his.

George Gordon, Lord Byron

And that is a very comforting thought. As writers,our words will live on long after we've gone and speak to people we will never know, give comfort to generations of readers who believe in the power of love and long for proof that happily ever after is nothing old, nor nothing new. 
It is eternal.
Like our words.
Like the writers.
Like us.

Have you ever been teased or insulted for using your vocabulary? Do you have favorite books on words? Do you have favorite words? Like me, do you have a list of words you tend to use over and over in a manuscript? So you search when you finish the manuscript, discover you've used "quite" six hundred times in a 250 page manuscript and then curse like a sailor as you go back through the manuscript and take most of those "quites" out? Am I alone here? Bueller? Bueller?



Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

What a great post, Louisa! Years ago, I had a young secretary ask me if I always spoke like that. I asked her how else I was suppose to speak. I have to say, I do not believe for one minute that the people who make those comments to you are my idea of "normal." On the other hand, I find writers normal. Shared.

Heather said...

Awesome post! My problem is that my vocabulary is so infused with legalese, I don't even realize when I am speaking "lawyer" anymore. Maybe a shock collar would help me.

Anonymous said...

You play in a delightful playground. Thanks for sharing the fun!

Betty Bolte said...

I'm fascinated by words, by their parts and sounds, and most emphatically by their etymology. You may think I'm insane, and some could perhaps argue that point, but one of the fun aspects of writing historicals is checking for anachronistic words or concepts embodied in them. The shifts in meaning, usage, connotation are fascinating!

Suzanne Johnson said...

Fun post! I don't realize I'm using a big vocabulary but when our office staff recently had to do one of those personality tests to show how each of us problem-solves, I was the only one on a staff of 30 mostly Barbie clones who was "intellectual" and a "thinking problem-solver." My boss said, "that figures." My reaction? "That figures." I can turn on the North Alabama hillbilly at will, however!

Collette Cameron said...

Brilliant, Louisa! I'm grinning.

Andrea K. Stein said...

Once again, Weezy, you've made my day -
- Naked Cowboy Wrestler here :-)

Lexi said...

Lovely post!

Cari Hislop said...

I've always loved words too and I've always been a voracious reader of whatever I could get my hands on. Strangely, my large vocabulary has never been connected to my verbal usage. Perhaps one of my many childhood head injuries damaged something. I had English teachers in both 7th and 8th grade accuse me of copying published work because they didn't believe "I" could have written my stories (mostly due to my vocabulary). When I was about 22 someone who knew me told me I needed to work on increasing my vocabulary because I sounded dumb. I was taken aback at first and obviously insulted, but then it made me laugh. She had no idea how vast my word storage was. Since then I've made an effort to verbally use my vocabulary, but the brain struggles unless I'm writing.

And I think we all have those favorite words or sayings that crop up like weeds!!! :)

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL ! Ella, I love that response! Yes, we writers have our own level of normal! Thank you!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Heather! And the vision of you in a shock collar for using legalese is hysterical!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Marty! I must confess, while frustrating, my playground is never dull!

Louisa Cornell said...

Betty !! My people !! I LIVE on this website


My life's ambition is to have a physical copy of the entire Oxford Dictionary of the English Language on my shelves in my office.

I will use almost any excuse to look up the etymology of a word to make certain it is extant to the Regency era.

Isn't it just the most fun!

Louisa Cornell said...

I'm not surprised in the least, Suzanne! And that North Alabama hillbilly comes in handy, doesn't it!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Collette! I am certain you know exactly what I am talking about!

Louisa Cornell said...

So glad I could make your day, Naked Cowboy Wrestler!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Lexi! You do a mean Scarlett O'Hara yourself!

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh, Cari, I had the same problems with teachers in elementary and junior high school. By high school I was fortunate enough to be placed in an AP sort of English class and the teachers were fantastic.

And sometimes the use of vocabulary is directly influenced by the vocabulary you hear around you. Sometimes it can be really frustrating to cast your pearls before swine. So you either keep your pearls to yourself and stay away from pigs. LOL

Nurani Monoarfa said...

I absolutely loved your article. It was wonderful. I saved it to my desktop to inspire me and lift my spirits when I run across a problem/irritating individual. Thank you.

Cari Hislop said...

I hadn't thought of that, but you're right...we do tend to talk like the people around us. It's like when I'm with my siblings or parents I tend to start swearing even though I rarely swear anymore. It's like we're all programmed. ;)

I'm glad they finally put you in AP English! They wrote me off as an idiot (though to be fair I did probably sound and look like an idiot - I spent the whole of High school literally half asleep due to avoiding sleep because of nightmares). My fashion sense didn't help either, but that's another story. ;)

Ali Hubbard said...

Only writers can get so super excited about words! I would roll in them if I could. lol.

As for speech? I grew up in rural Illinois and always had a bit of a "hick" accent for Illinois. When I moved to Alabama? I talk snooty. lol. Can't win!

And I'm alllll over that online etymology dictionary. hahahaha