A Word a Day
I RECENTLY received a gift. The occasion for it and the sentiment behind it are not important at the moment. It is of the gift I write, and the pleasure and profit it has afforded me.
It was a dictionary, but that was not all, for the ponderous volume was mounted upon a curious metal structure designed to stand by my table, and which allowed the book to lie open at any desired page.
Personally I regarded this arrangement with some suspicion. It seemed to me to be an improper and undignified thing to do to so deserving a book, and I had a lurking distrust of the mechanics of the thing. However, not wishing to appear in any way critical of my gift, I placed it by my table and opened it at random in what appeared to be a safe and comfortable position. For several days I had no occasion to consult it. Never having possessed so compendious a volume, I have developed a habit of avoiding, in my literary labors, any word the spelling of which troubles me, usually using a synonym of which I feel a bit more sure. This, I imagine, may account for the clearness and simplicity of my literary output.
One day I became conscious of a certain mood of exaltation. I could not explain it. I found myself repeating at intervals, with a sensation of delight, a new and fabulous word. As I went about my humble daily tasks my lips formed it and my senses reveled in it. The word was ‘myzostomous.’ What a rich, full word that is! It suggests all sorts of mystic and agreeable things. But where did it come from? I did not know, but it haunted me and filled my mind with vague imaginings. I even found myself replying to a question from across the table by murmuring absently, ‘Myzostomous, myzostomous.’ Heads were shaken and silence fell.
Not until evening did I discover the genesis of this new delight. As I sat at my desk I glanced at the book beside me, and in bold type at the top of a page was my new word, ‘myzostomous,’ in upper case. Then I made a mistake which I learned not to repeat. I read the definition. My new word, which had suggested a thousand half-imagined delights, turned out to relate to ‘a genus of parasitic animals found on crinoids.’ I hastily turned the page, disillusioned and sad. But I was rewarded, for my ravished eyes fell upon ‘Oligochæta’ and that gave me a happy though slightly distrait evening.
From that moment I no longer disapproved of the mechanical environment of my book, for it each day provided a new thrill. The pleasure was heightened when a breeze from an open window, or other accident, turned the pages for me and a new and unexpected word appeared. It was in this way that ‘tarsometatarsus’ came into my life and gladdened it.
There came a day when domestic calamity followed calamity; frozen pipes, a dying furnace, a sick puppy, and a disabled automobile made it a day to be remembered. To the amazement of my domestic circle I moved serenely from disaster to disaster, unruffled and undisturbed. They little knew that my soul was strengthened and raised above the petty anxieties of worldly affairs by the sonorous accents of ‘epiphenomenalism.’
The gladness of the holiday season was heightened by the arrival of ‘gymnogynous’ — an agile, sprightly word, the judicious repetition of which I recommend for occasions when a certain jauntiness of manner is desirable, and when, under the stress of continued hilarity, your spirits flag a bit. The same general effect can be achieved by the use of ‘anaglyptograph,’ but the reaction is slower and the result a bit less animated.
In moments of tranquil solitude and when in reflective mood, ‘sopraporta’ induces thought along agreeable lines and tends to clear the mind of minor irritations.
Like everything else in this world of compensations, I soon found that care should be exercised in the excessive use of certain words. There seem to be some the effect of which is most unhappy. A longanticipated winter tramp under exhilarating atmospheric conditions was robbed of all stimulation by the brooding presence of ‘Malvaviscus.’ I soon found that ‘orgulous’ could put the touch of death on any occasion. ‘Glioma’ should be avoided except when used as a sedative, and ‘ leucomelanous’ is undoubtedly a depressive.
There was one red-letter day when two words presented themselves at once. They were sorely needed. I had felt for a long time a crying inadequacy in my vocabulary of expletives. I knew none that quite answered for certain occasions when vehement self-expression was demanded but the requirements of decorum narrowed my choice. Now, however, I am supplied, at least for the present, for I have acquired the twin gems, ‘bezugo’ and ‘bundobust.’ With a little practice in the articulation of the latter, it will be found an almost perfect outlet for repressed feelings, and is not objectionable to the most fastidious.
Appropriately, in conclusion, I sing the praises of the most perfect word of all. It was acquired only by accident, when the distrusted support of my volume collapsed and threw the tome haphazard at my feet. Disturbed as I was by this unseemly interruption, I was immediately soothed when my eye fell upon ‘zythum.’ That is a word to be remembered and used with entire freedom. It has all the qualities of an emollient, while it avoids being saccharine and offensive. I humbly offer it to a suffering world.
In this brief and superficial survey of words as healing agencies, justice cannot be done to the subject. I have barely hinted at the possibilities of this new use of words. I should be glad to go more deeply into the subject with anyone who may be interested.