Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Words, Words, Words ... (Final)

Okay, we finally reach the termination of this three-part journey through my word-nerdery. I should mention that--years ago--I used to read William F. Buckley, Jr., not because I agreed with his conservative politics (I didn't--virtually never) but because I admired his vocabulary. I learned from him many words, if not political/social positions. One of his words I stole was anfractuous, a word I subsequently employed in an essay about education that Buckley published in his National Review on Nov. 28, 1979--"Are We Ready for the College Students of 1984?" I'd adapted this piece from a speech I'd given at the opening faculty convocation at Lake Forest College in the fall of 1978. Joyce and I had taken jobs at Lake Forest that year--and I thought this would be a good way to begin my tenure there--my short tenure there, for after a few months I realized I didn't want to teach in a college; I missed those wacky middle-schoolers back in Aurora, and I eventually ended back up there at Harmon Middle School in the fall of 1982.

Anyway, anfractuous--characterized by windings and turnings ... circuitous. Just one of my "Buckley words." And he knew a lot. Once I heard/read an interview with him, and the questioner wondered why he always used such esoteric words. And Buckley replied with something like this: Everyone knows words that other people don't. To me, they're familiar--not esoteric. Or that's the gist of it. I kind of liked that.

Well, this is kind of an ... anfractuous ... way to get to some words. I recently thought of the word kerfuffle (commotion, disorder) and wondered where on earth it came from!?!?

And here's what I found out:

from Scottish curfuffle, carfuffle, from Scottish Gaelic car twist, turn +fuffle to disarrange

And just the other day, a coffee-shop acquaintance stopped me and asked if I knew the source of the expression an arm and a leg--as in It cost me an arm and a leg. I didn't. (And he was very happy and made some snide comment about how I was supposed to be the word genius ... Touché, I guess.) Anyway, he said it came from portrait-painting: the fewer features you wanted in your portrait, the cheaper it was.

Sounded reasonable. But I looked it up. He was wrong. (Was/Am I happy? Please.) Here's what I learned online--Phrase Finder: link.  The site very specifically rejects the portrait-cost story and says the word is from post-WW II America. The OED traces it to 1956.

Some of you Facebook friends of mine know that I often post information about words on my Timeline. Here are a few from recent weeks that I've neglected to mention--but these are words I like for various reasons ...

exilic = pertaining to exile, especially that of the Jews in Babylon.
hypogeum = an underground burial chamber. 
plutomania = an obsession with money or wealth.
xerophilus = adapted to a very dry or desert environment.
nidificate = to build a nest.
hebdomadal = taking place, coming together, or published once every seven days
obnoxity = an obnoxious, objectionable, or offensive person or thing; an object of aversion.

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