Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cymotrichous and Other Powerful Words

Couldn't have even spelled it on my hand, but the lovely Sukanya Roy, age 14 and a seasoned academic competitor nailed it and won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The word itself means having wavy hair and the Miss Roy actually recognized the word which is a feat in and of itself. Most 14 year old girls in the U.S. are obsessively texting and deleting unnecessary vowels and consonants in a faux effort at cleverness. More and more our society is opting out of full length conversations in person, by phone, by mail and I worry the loss of so many lovely words.

Cymotrichous is one that I made all the way to 42 without ever hearing in conversation and yet I have known many people with cymotrichous hair, and even mine can get a little cymotrichous when it is longer and I go to sleep with it damp.

For many years now I have made it my habit to compliment the boys on their use of a new word,"Nice vocabulary there buddy." So much so now that they will prompt me,"Nice one, huh mom?"

I love using words to paint a picture both verbally and in writing and I dread the loss of real conversation to all of it's abbreviated forms. To be sure I love the internet and facebook, and email, but I also love the heft of a book in my hand, the feel of stationary under my pen, the joy of a 50 point word in Scrabble.

Beyond the spelling bee this week I have seen or heard 3 or 4 news stories regarding words coming under fire as in the "F" word (faggot) and the "R" word (retard). The new PSA with Jane Lynch and her lovely young costar from Glee who happens to be a person with Down's Syndrome is short and to the point-and really takes your breath away when you hear the streak of vulgar names in quick succession.

My mother would have preferred I used the word F*ck at the dinner table than to have ever heard the word "Ni**er" cross my lips. Having been raised in Northern California she was horrified by the lingering racism in Texas and reinforced that there is no time ever to use such a hateful word. As I became a parent there are words I reinforce with the kids that "we" do not use, ever.

Yet, there seem to be few parents like me at my son's middle school because this week the "G" word  crept into my house and knocked me down in the kitchen. "That is soooooooo gay," I heard from the livingroom. "Pardon me?" "Oh mom, you know what I mean." "Yes, I know exactly what you mean, you mean it's stupid and I'd like you to go call one of the many gay people we know and love and tell them you think they're stupid." (Heavy sigh) "I got it mom."

So I'd like to offer a solution to both of my concerns. In order to air out the Thesaurus and the treasure trove of words within it and correct the use of inappropriate pejorative put downs I am now going to require anyone around me to give me 5 other words to replace their offensive one...should the offensive party in question be an adult who refuses, I will offer up five suggestions.

For example, "That is" "No, no I think you mean witless, doltish, inane, imbecilic, or idiotic."

Just doing my part to change (adjust, advance, correct) the world.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Patti! I find great comfort, succor, repose, solace, encouragement and assuagement in knowing that there are more of us non-English majors engaged in promoting civility through the proper and eloquent use of our vibrant dialect of the English language.