So my younger sister Emily (the one who is an editor for Merriam-Webster— yes, the dictionary), gave me a page-a-day calendar for Christmas. A page-a-day of words. What a great gift for me.
I’m loving it on several levels, and the first is also the most base: I Love it when I already know the words. And I often do. Words like “sophistry,” “antipode,” “puissant”– these are words I know, words I sometimes use, words that, prior to my finding them on the page-a-day, were already making their way into my vocabulary.
It feels good to know that one Knows Something.
Another level comes on the reverse side of the page. Sometimes it gives etymology (I Love Etymology); sometimes it traces the way a word’s meaning has shifted over the years; and sometimes it gives shades of meaning between words. I Love shades of meaning. Check this out:
“Artless,” “ingenuous,” and “naive” all refer to freedom from pretension or calculation, but there are subtle differences in their uses. “Ingenuous” implies an inability to disguise or conceal one’s feelings, while “naive” suggests a credulous lack of worldly wisdom. “Artless” generally indicates an utter naturalness, one in which a person is innocent of the effect of his or her speech or behavior in others.
My students stand a Strong Chance of being visited by these words Sometime Soon.
But the Very Best thing about this page-a-day is the new words that come through from time to time. Lately there’s been a spate of these. In the last few weeks we’ve been treated to words like “truckle,” “claque,” “esurient,” and– tomorrow’s word– “deliquesce.” “Deliquesce”– can you stand it? What kind of word is that?? “Acquiesce” comes to mind, and suddenly I’m thinking of (you guessed it) etymology and I flip the page over and there it is: the Latin verb liquere, which means (imagine!), “to be fluid.” So to deliquesce means to dissolve or melt away, which isn’t even remotely related to “acquiesce,” but never mind.
Deliquesce. Deliquesce. Like what happens in the ice cream carton when nobody bothers to put the ice cream away. Like what happens to the snowman who is left to suffer the sun’s unflinching rays. Like what happens (and this is the example given on the page-a-day page) to the butter when you leave it out on the table on a summer afternoon. It deliquesces, right? Just like we always knew it did.
“Esurient” means hungry or greedy. A claque is a group hired to applaud at a performance– or any group of servile flatterers (sycophants– my students would know that one). “Truckle” means to act in a subservient manner: to submit. Suddenly the sentences form: Esurient for more candy, the child shoved others aside in his eagerness to find the most Easter eggs. The claque truckled to his every demand.
Ah-ha! That last one had Two new words in it– did you notice that? That’s like a double bonus or something. I am Very Into This. This, O Reader, is a Very Good Time.
And, likely, it’s good for me. What was that ad I used to hear on the radio years ago? “The vocabulary of the average person stops growing by the time he reaches 25….” Something like that. I Never wanted that to happen to me.
But why? Why should it matter? Oh, it doesn’t I suppose. Who needs New Words (again, I hear my students– some of them– in my mind) when the ones one already has Do The Trick?
The second definition of “deliquesce” is, perhaps, a helpful insight in answering the above question. It reads: “to become soft or liquid with age or maturity.”
I guess I just don’t want to acquiesce to this happening to my brain.