Alex (yakshaver) wrote,

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Adventures in Vocabulary

Astoundingly, given the trendline in the retail book market, some people decided to open a new independent bookstore in a nearby shopping center a year or two ago. And they appear to be doing alright. They've managed to create a cozy neighborhood bookstore in what's essentially a strip-mall storefront between a hardware store and a liquor store. Since my trip to the hardware store had been successful, I decided I had time to browse a little before coming back home and finishing putting my bed back together.

I found something I wanted, and got in line for the checkstand. And there, next to the cash register, I found the real treasure: 100 Words To Make You Sound Smart, by the Editors of The American Heritage Dictionaries. When I was a little geek, I'd have been all over that book (though of course I'd have looked around to be sure nobody who knew me saw me looking at it). As it was, I was amused to see such a naked appeal to striving not a mile from Harvard Yard. I decided to page through it.

It's basically a 100-word dictionary, roughly one entry per page. The pitch is timeless: Learn these words and you'll be able to move in higher circles and sound better educated than you are! It is, in every essential, a direct descendant of Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall ... of hard usuall English wordes of 1604, the first English dictionary.*

The first couple of entries were quite familiar, so I kept paging through it, expecting to find something obscure. What I found instead was that not only did I know all 100 of these words, but I'd be willing to bet I've used better than 80 of them in the past year. I almost bought it just to type the words into a friends-locked post and see what my friends thought. I might still.

I have to admit, that when I got to about word 40 and still hadn't found anything remotely unfamiliar, I started to grin, and my grin only got bigger as I kept reading. I'm still enough the little geek I once was to be chuffed that these "words to make you sound smart" are all comfortably established members of my vocabulary.

* More than twenty years ago I actually held a copy of Cawdrey (a 1613 printing, IIRC) in my own two clean but ungloved hands, reading a few passages that were relevant to the paper I was writing on King Lear It was the oldest human creation I had ever touched at the time, by a large margin. And still holds a special place, perhaps because the older works of human hands that I have touched are all made of stone. (Remarkably, I can show you one of the pages I was most interested in at the time.)

Interestingly, after inserting a GMT timestamp when I started the last entry, LJ inserted an EST one on this one. I wonder if it's a heisenbug? Anyway, since this on refers to that one, I manually set it to GMT.

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