My parents gave me a Word-a-Day calendar for Christmas.
You may have noticed I like words. I am not disciplined or scientific about learning definitions or increasing my vocabulary. Even with my trusty little calendar, I will forget to peel off a page every day, and suddenly—wait, it’s not January 5th anymore, is it?—I have to blaze through a week and a half of fancy words to get myself caught up, and I probably won’t remember most of them.
Still, I love how certain words capture my imagination. Sometimes it’s just the sound or rhythm that I like, or the way sound fits meaning. Sometimes it’s the particular shade of meaning you can get by using one word instead of another. And sometimes it’s the definition itself. The fact that there is a word for fear of thunder and lightning, keraunophobia, and the idea that you can take that feeling you had as a child, lying in bed at night with the covers over your head, waiting miserably for the next crack of thunder and with it sure death, and why in the world don’t Mom and Dad understand how serious this is—that you can pack all that into a series of letters. You can put it all into this small, elegant package, and when you present it to somebody else there is a good chance they will understand at least part of what’s behind what you are saying.
Yes, I think it’s most often the definitions that get me. Sometimes I read the definition first, and my mind is in another world before I realize that probably the word’s common usage isn't as exciting as I’d thought.
Take today’s word: “feeding upon or living among flowers” (anthophilous, \an-‘thä-fə-ləs\, adj—that’s the order in which I read it.) I know, now, that you would use this word to refer to a certain sort of insect. But I still really like where my mind went at first, to a field of flowers—oversized ones, preferably, but still delicate—and I lived there, surrounded by color and tender petals and fragrance all at once sweet and clean and fresh. And that was my place—where I lived, where I came from, and where sometimes I might like to hide.
I don’t mind that the word has turned out to be a useful one. But I’ve added a little bit to the package. I think there’s room for it, even if only a few other people know.
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