THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT


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“Bird Of Paradise” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Did you ever stop to think how arbitrary the naming of things can be? For instance: has anyone ever really seen a bird of paradise? In the rich history of the English language a word has been invented for just about everything including things we have never seen.

Now and then words go missing when we need them and then unexpectedly pop up again in the night while in the middle of a good dream. Haven’t you wished you could think of a great word to apply to someone who does things which are particularly annoying or irritating–whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window or in tedious meetings at work?

It’s fascinating for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. There are several I’m sure, but we can avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian. Do you see how useful it could be?

Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinion to follow popular trends. It comes from a girouette another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical position according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.

Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one–ironically.

Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation, unlike the words such a person is likely to use. Many years ago I was annoyed with my father and wrote him a long pedantic and complaining letter. He immediately dashed one off to me using words I never thought he knew. It is universal to believe that we are far more brilliant than our parent, until we are once again proven wrong.

A Buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way was the one who provides us with the first recorded use of the word “bad” to mean “good”, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh. So you see, when someone says another person or musical group is “bad-ass” and means they’re good, it’s really “old-hat”.

Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. One of its root words is “humbug” or a hoax. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug. So don’t complain too loudly or people may call you a “humdudgeon”.

One of the great words featured in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth century Dictionary is bed-presser which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’.

There must be other annoying words–or rather, perfectly nice words that describe things people do–or things which get your goat.

We borrow from other languages, invent new words, combine words, and still wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t understand us.

ARE YOU LISTENING?


It’s fairly easy to tell when someone is actually listening to you. Body language is usually a dead give-away. For instance, I can always tell when Dr. Advice is not listening to me because he has a glazed look on his face, and his body language and spoken words don’t agree. My habit on those times is to simply say in a continuing conversational manner “I need to go wash the cat!”. It usually snaps him to attention. Besides we haven’t owned a cat for nearly 40 years.

When speaking to a group of children or simply the one child who needs to clean his/her room, a barely inaudible grunt while he/she is absorbed in a TV program or video game, is a sure sign that your message did not get through. It is my understanding that Bill Gates as a child answered his mother’s call to dinner from his downstairs room by saying “I’m busy”. But then, chances are, you did not give birth to another computer genius, and as it turned out, he really was busy.

Speakers are aware of body language, referred to as “audience awareness”, or relating to a group. As you prattle on about your favorite subject, and see that the audience is sitting back in their seats with their chins down and arms crossed on their chest, you might get a hunch that your delivery is not going well, or that half the audience is asleep. If what you are speaking about is contained in a slide show of “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, and you hear snores rumbling through the darkened room, you blew it.
Ear
Women are far more perceptive than men, which means being able to spot the contradictions between someone’s words and their body language. Female intuition is evident in women who have raised children. For instance, I long ago convinced my children and grandchildren that mothers really did have “eyes in the back of their heads”. How else to explain the sudden change of plans which accurately foiled any after-school activity they may have planned? It is a parental challenge at which mothers somehow can do intuitively.

It is a proven fact that women have far greater capacity for communicating and evaluating people than men do. Women have between fourteen and sixteen areas of the brain to evaluate others’ behavior versus a man’s four to six areas. This may explain how a woman can attend a dinner party and rapidly work out the state of relationships of other couples at the party—who’s had an argument, who likes who, and so on.

The female brain is organized for multitracking—the average woman can juggle between two and four unrelated topics at the same time. She can watch a TV program while talking on the telephone plus listen to a second conversation behind her, while drinking a cup of coffee. She can talk about several unrelated topics in the one conversation and use five vocal tones to change the subject or emphasize points. Unfortunately most men can only identify three. As a result, men often lose the plot when women are trying to communicate with them.

Then there is the “Fast Talker”, frequently a man, who has so much to say in a short time, and covers so many divergent subjects, that his spoken words pour out and flow like a spring thaw. These men are frequently lawyers or politicians. Are you listening Dr. Advice?