Word Up

By Andrew Naia

Word [wurd] Noun

1. A unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

Just 1,000 words make up ninety percent of all writing. And many words are only used in their negative forms. Rarely do we hear of (un)wieldy controlled, (im)placable seas that are still (in)nocuous to the (im)pervious boat. Did you get that?

Let’s expand our knowledge of language and give heed to some of the meanings and histories behind certain words. You will see how fun–and funny–words are. Language is meant to be tweaked and interpreted. “Trending” words and phrases are all over the internet, but so many words have escaped our memories. So as a vessel of communication, let’s be more creative, expressive, and inspiring. Let’s teach one another how to convey a new feeling or idea. Invent a better way of expressing ourselves. To give insight to another side of our emotional minds.

That all sounds wonderfully deep. (Maybe even too deep for some.) To fully understand, let’s take a quick comparison of languages near and far.

English is a Germanic language, although we have many words deriving from old English, Norse, French, Latin, and other Romance languages. In fact, our grammar has developed so much it is somewhere between a Germanic and Romance hybrid. Around sixty percent of our vocabulary comes from Latin, making it “the Latin of Germanic languages.”

We have quite an eclectic mix of vocabulary. The following words come from our Viking friends: sky, egg, cake, skin, leg, window (wind eye), husband, fellow, skill, anger, flat, odd, ugly, get, give, take, raise, call, die, they, their, them. Words derived from Arabic include: satin, saffron, chemistry, checks, caraway, alkali. And a few words we get from the dear ol’ Irish: tantrum, hooligan, smithereens, bother, galore, banshee. French makes up a great deal of English as well: ballet, cafe, croissant, entrepreneur, genre, debris, lingerie, rendezvous, renaissance.

Funny enough, we also get words from far off cultures. The Papua New Guinean term for rage is “amok.” The next time someone is ‘running amok’, ask them to derive that word (betcha they can’t). Actually, Papua New Guinea has six million people and over 800 languages. Many neighboring villages speak varying or inaudible languages. However, English is still an official language of Papua New Guinea!

Then we have “taxi” which is derived from Latin and is spelled the same in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Czech.

Nearly fifty percent of Germans speak English fluently, yet only three percent of Germans can speak French. Although French has made its roots in our own language, not many Americans speak it fluently either. (Still, there are 275 million French speakers worldwide.)

Not to bash on the French, but do you know what Mafia means? It is actually an acronym that stands for “Morte alle Francia Italia adela!” Or in English: Death to the French is Italy’s cry! Ouch…

Words are also created by simply making them up. Taking two you like and forcing them together. For instance, what do you get when you put duds and attitude together? According to Oscar Wilde’s imagination, you get dude… which has become a prevalent part of slang today.

Here are some funny words that do not get enough attention. (Not only are they good icebreakers, they can help you seem smarter–not that you need that anyways…)

Fillip is the technical term for snapping your fingers.

Lalochezia is the use of swearing to relieve stress or pain.

Minimus is the little finger or toe.

Tines are the prongs on forks.

Toque is a chef’s tall hat.

Bouffage is a satisfying meal.

Flippercanorious means elegant, although it may not sound it.

Snudge means to stride around as though you are terribly busy, when in reality you are doing absolutely nothing.

And then we have words such as loosen and unloosen, which mean the same thing. Although they should not, they do.

So give these words a try (except for unloosen, forget that one). Sneak them into everyday chit chat and see if anyone notices. Surely if you stub your minimus onlookers will understand. But the next time you feast on a bouffage, express your joy out loud and thank the French for such a word.

Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathanial Hawthorne

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