Apr 5, 2017

Spectacular Sememes

          Feeling enervated by the dearth of opulent prose in your prosaic routine, ensnared by the treadmill of drab vernacular?

          Me too.  Thus begins our quest to find the most swank words in the English language, entirely without foresight, substantiated background sources, a five year plan, any observation of any other lists that may exist, or caffeine (commitment to one of these stipulations is dubious).

          The game plan, such as it is, is to pick ~7 words a week that stand out.  No looking through dictionaries, no methodical search methods, just random words that I think are quite nice enough to deserve a few more words written about them.  The criteria, vaguely, are:

1) Sound - Some combination of either being pleasant and/or unusual off the tongue is paramount

2) Appearance - A nice spelling can make or break the excellency of a word.  Disc vs disk?  Donut vs doughnut?  Tell me you don't have a preference.

3) Meaning - Having a real niche meaning, or something that no other word quite satisfies, is way cool.  "Wonderful", even if it were a wonderful word otherwise, is straight-up drowned in synonyms.

Meanwhile, "schadenfreude" (technically borrowed from German, but most of English was borrowed at some point or another) owns its meaning like nobody's business.  Look it up.  There aren't any good synonyms, and it's still a useful word.  I'm steering away from technical terms like "photosynthesis" for the most part, because of course it has it's own very specific meaning, that's too easy.

4) Rarity - "The" might be a very nice word in your opinion, but it just ain't special enough to make the cut.  My general guideline is somewhere below 0.001% (max) on the Google ngram viewer.  Extra rare is nice, but not to the point of being unused.  You could say that the best words are medium rare.

5) General Impression - Because this is my list, ultimately I can pick whatever words I want.  If you disagree with my choice, then we'll throw the disagreement into this catch-all category.  If you really disagree, leave a comment :)

Let's go, logophiles.

Episode I: 4/5/2017

Episode II: 4/22/2017

Procrastination: This wasn't going to be the first entry, but seeing how the first entry was supposed to be over two weeks ago, I can think of no word more appropriate for the occasion.

Episode III: 7/5/2017

Seems that "procrastination would be due for another mention, but I shall press onward...

Lackadaisical:  Without a doubt, currently my favorite word based on aesthetics and pronunciation alone.  I can't help but smile just a bit at the realization that such a giddy-sounding word exists to mean, essentially, lethargic and careless.

I also find that this word (when shared with only the most positive connotations in mind, naturally) describes my attitude frequently; "carelessly lazy".  Think Huck Finn floating down the river (as opposed to Garfield wallowing in apathy and lasagna).

Evanescence:  Yet another word primarily on here for its aesthetic value, this word fills me with a funny little happiness usually reserved for the name of a girl I'm senselessly in love with.

It reminds me of little bubbles in champagne that fill me with a similar happiness, but that would be a result of confusing "evanescence" with "effervescence".  Like bubbles, evanescence conveys a sense of the temporary, but in the far more sobering sense of something passing out of existence and fading away.

It is also, of course, typically known as the name of a band with clearly excellent taste in words.

Backpfeifengesicht:  The German language, while winning comparatively few points aesthetically, absolutely crushes with regard to creating niche words.  For the uninitiated, "backpfeifengesicht" means, roughly, "a face in need of a slap".  Talk about expediency!

It's a tragedy that this word (particularly in the current political climate - if there is a word that combines this lovely sentiment with a comment on the hand size of the face-bearer, it should present limitless value to the media over the next several years) doesn't see everyday use.

From petty anger relief (that backpfeifengesicht cut me off in traffic!) to practical identification purposes ("who's Bradley?" He's the backpfeifengesicht with the man-bun over there), backpfeifengesicht should be in everyone's arsenal.

Episode IV: 7/8/2017

Senescence:  Senescence is, I think, not only a beautiful word aesthetically (for the same reason as "evanescence", undoubtedly, whatever ultimately causes that to be "beautiful"), but also in its redirection of one of our most deeply rooted discomforts into something with broader perspective.

Age is a word we are exposed to almost immediately and immeasurable connotations are bundled with it before we ever likely hear the word "senescence".  Thus, at least in this author's opinion, the word is relatively free of the connotative baggage that the more popular word carries along with it.

Aging is uncomfortable; it can be frightening.  Senescence, however, redirects our instinctive reaction from one of a personal attack on the well-being and longevity of our fragile bodies by forces beyond our control, into a clinical, natural process that happens to everyone and (almost?) everything.  If it can be used without just coming across as pretentious or equivocating, it neatly separates the meaning from the biases and connotations of the more common morpheme.

Worst Words

Once again based on purely arbitrary opinionated criteria, this is a small dedication to the few words I feel represent the worst of the language, by three different categories.  Perhaps I'll find more later, but I like most words, and this is enough for the time being.

By Spelling: "Occasionally"

Holy f**k if there is one word that never fails to trip me up, it's this one.  I did alright in a few school spelling bees and got damn near perfect scores on the English and reading sections of the ACT, but spell-check will forever remind me of my status as a flawed human being when it comes time to use this word.  Which happens... frequently?  Or perhaps not quite that often.

By Meaning: "Faith"

Time to step on some toes here.  There are a few different definitions of faith, primarily seeing it as either a synonym to trust, or the related-but-not-identical "trust without evidence".  Trust is itself an excellent word, and faith is far more useful to the language when it is not just a synonym of a word that already has its bases covered.  The Bible, probably the most commonly cited source of hype regarding faith, defines it in Hebrews 11:1, saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Thus, to forestall any future confusion, faith here is defined as "trust without evidence".

The closest related word then, to faith, is as much "assumption" as it is "trust".  An assumption is to take something as true.  Even an assumption, however, usually has at least some truth behind it.  You already know what they say about assuming; faith without evidence, in practical terms, is a step below that.  

Perhaps part of my exhaustion with the word stems from its incessant use in nonsensical assumptions like this; unsubstantiated beliefs and ideas without evidence being paraded around as something dignified.

Faith is (to paraphrase something that I recalled as being attributed to Hitchens, but probably misattributed) "gullibility dressed up as a virtue".  The entire notion of venerating someone for believing something without proof... has always struck me as unreasonable at best.  And yet, it is the cornerstone of virtually every religion that has survived into the modern era, and is indeed part of the foundation of patriotism and nationalistic beliefs as well.  

It's worth considering the possibility that, just maybe, the people who have been at the top of religious and governmental hierarchies for the past few millennia might have had an interest in making people feel good about blindly trusting them and giving their loyalty without questioning whether the warlords, priests, and presidents had truly earned it.

Meanwhile, another quote (from a substantially more reputable ultimate source, although ironically designed in a very similar fashion to the first) reveals the damning problem with faith of all stripes.  Einstein, fleeing the authoritarian Nazi Germany, was all too aware of the effects of nationalistic faith.

I suppose the word itself isn't necessarily bad; properly used, it fits its descriptory niche as any decent word should.  However, the association that several prominent cultures have promulgated where believing something without evidence is actually a good idea, even a noble or honorable one, is responsible for far more repression of ideas and harm than should have ever been possible had every individual assessed reality with their own eyes rather than having blind faith in the good intentions of others.

By Everything: "Moist"

There's a reason it's the poster child for word aversion - moist, whether by its sound or connotation, is widely regarded as the most disturbing and generally unwelcome word in the spoken English language.  So much so, that an entire scientific study was centered around discovering why this is so.  If you aren't seeing why it's a terrible word, then congrats, you're part of the 80-90% of the population that doesn't have a strong aversion to it.  If, however, you do feel the pain, then there is no need for further explanation, and I will torment you no more with the mention of the word moist.

Bonus Round - Worst acronym: "WYSIWYG"

With the proliferation of acronym slang, there should be no shortage of hated acronyms to write about.  In this writer's opinion, however, none are more egregious than "WYSIWYG".  If you didn't know, it stands for "what you see is what you get".  This is fine; it's the pronunciation of "wizz-ee-wig" that I simply can't get behind.  Say it out loud and I hope you'll understand why no self-respecting adult should ever feel comfortable with an acronym so terribly undignified.

See?  Wholly opinionated and unsubstantiated.  However, if you weren't okay with that, you wouldn't have read this far, so I can likely thank the survivorship bias for the excellent reviews and friendly comments I have faith that you will leave...

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