As the daughter of a college professor, I grew up surrounded by syllables. The feeling seemed to be that unless it couldn’t be said with a flourish, it shouldn’t be said. In addition my father’s admiration of intellegentsia, I also developed a taste for words. I began a reading habit at an early age. The result of all of this is that as an adult, I have been referred to as “a fucking dictionary” by my friends, my children never knew any euphemisms, and my compulsion to edit what comes out of the mouths of others has never abated.
This doesn’t skip a generation, by the way. My youngest daughter, at age three, informed a good friend that her two elementary aged sons were “noxious.” When asked by our neighbors if she liked the circus, my other daughter said with panache, “Oh yes, and my favorite act was the clitoris!” (they didn’t always get the words entirely on target—we still think she was referring to the contortionist…) Quirky children from an obviously linguistically obese mother!
My husband, who had a major stroke nine years ago, has a slightly different affliction. He uses big words all right, but his lexicon can’t be found in a dictionary. Charlie has a real talent for getting so close to the actual word he is looking for that virtually no one is ever confused about what he is saying. For instance, the other day he was telling me about an act he really liked on “America’s Got Talent.” Evidently, this was a dance team performing THE SALAMBA. Got it? Of course!
My girls get on me all the time to simplfy, simplify. Why peregrinate with the dog? “Mom, for God’s sakes, YOU ARE JUST WALKING! I love jewelry. I bedeck myself. PUT IT ON, already. And perfume? Yes, but I don’t just spray it on—oh heaven’s no, it adorns me! But these same critical children are the ones who always got the highest comprehension scores on the English section of standardized tests. How dare they whinge?
Don’t you think that those who use colorful language lead somehow more interesting lives? Whenever I fantasize about living life as another, I covet the adventures of those who lived adventure, took lovers, and savored both the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despair. No lowly bad days and good days for those folks. They were exhilarated or
Inconsolable. Happy? Sad? WAY to pedestrian for them! And don’t even think that they used common words for things like sex. Those folks , depending on their generation, canoodled, had assignations, trysts, they found soul mates, they rolled in the hay, and one of the most picturesque–they KNEW each other in the biblical sense. (sidebar: if you know somebody in the biblical sense, do you somehow GET INTRODUCED to them biblically? And how does THAT go?)
This has never been easy for our family. My mother, bless her, was a simple soul who meant what she said, and said what she meant. Her punishments consisted of hitting us over the head with whatever she had in her hand, usually a cleaning implement—either a dust mop or a dish rag. Her most colorful turn of phrase when describing her wayward girls was to call us “lazy sluts.” Not bad, actually.
My father made punishment a study in psychology. It began with the pronouncement that the offending party was, “In disgrace.” In order to escape that purgatory, we had to expiate ourselves by slavishly promising to conform to whatever strictures he imposed. For me, the youngest kid, it was easy. While groveling, the more BIG WORDS I threw into the mix, the better I thought it made me look in his eyes. I think I threw in a lot of “despairs,” “humiliations,” offered up my “fears for redemption,” blah, blah. blah!
The offshoot of all this wordy family history is that I have a huge compendium of language just rattling around in my head, WAITING for their turns to be used. And as I age, I am finding it harder and harder to locate just the right word in all of that talk soup in my head. So I am, what is it, flummoxed?