Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Antimacasser turpitude

I really enjoyed Ian Brown's consideration of vocabulary in the paper this weekend. It was a great article, with points of view from those who see the benefit of a large vocabulary, and others who see large words as just pretension. I also liked the new words the article taught me, including "Struthious", which means relating to ostriches and has been removed from the COE. Which is terrible, because it's the best word I've ever heard.

My love of struthious might make clear that I tend toward logophilia. Though I have accepted that in order to be alive, language must grow and change, I relish in new words, terms obsolete. I like words that allow me precision of expression. But I am a very poor logophile too, as my vocabulary is not extraordinary. In most ways it is decidedly average, and too peppered with utterances of "brilliant" and "fuck." But I make the effort to make mine grow. During the year before I started graduate school, convinced I was too stupid to actually go, I noted every new word in everything I read. Which I do much less now, regretfully, because I do so value that massive document on my computer now full of wonderful words I'd collected, like "xanthic", "lugubrious" and "soporific".

Teaching English had me thinking about language in a new, subjective kind of way. I learned the word "avarice" listening to "Astral Weeks". But I mostly credit Margaret Drabble with expanding my vocabulary during that year-- those battered second-hand penguins whilst we lived in Japan. Aware that I would never learn Japanese, I set myself instead the task of English, and I will never ever be done.