August 09, 2011

The Need for a Good Vocabulary

Here's an experience a friend of mine had:

"I was sitting on some concrete steps involved in an art project. A couple of 'gentlemen' who were under the influence of some mind-altering substance came over to me and started chatting. They were basically friendly and harmless, if somewhat inappropriate, so I kept working and tried to ignore them. One of them sat down right next to me, and as he moved closer, I said, "You don't want to do that. I'm very contentious." I doubt he knew what contentious meant, but I bet he thought it was the same as contagious, because they immediately stopped trying to schmooze me, and picked up and left!"

While it was probably fortunate for her that the "gentlemen" in question didn't have a better understanding of the English language, think of the other things they might be missing.

We communicate through the use of language, and those who don't have a good, working vocabulary miss out on things they need to understand. In the future, I will be posting some lesser-used words along with their definitions and examples, so you can avoid missing out on the fun and interesting parts of life. Feel free to suggest some of your favorite obscure words. If it's not already on my list, I'll even give you credit for the suggestion.

I'm taking my definitions from Dictionary.com, though if they give other sources, I will show those. The usage sentences are my own creations.

Kerfluffle

- row, disturbance, c.1930, first in Canadian English, ult. from Scot. curfuffle.
(Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)

She left the restaurant, oblivious to the kerfluffle happening on the balcony above her until the potted plant, nudged by one of the combatants, crashed to the sidewalk at her feet.

Ribald

–adjective
vulgar or indecent in speech, language, etc.; coarsely mocking, abusive, or irreverent; scurrilous.

–noun
a ribald person.

Origin:
1200–50; Middle English ribald, ribaud (noun) < Old French ribau ( l ) d, equivalent to rib ( er ) to be licentious (< Old High German rÄ«ben to copulate, be in heat, literally, rub) + -au ( l ) d, -alt < Frankish *-wald a suffix in personal names, derivative of *walden to rule; compare parallel development of -ard

She blushed as the minstrel strummed the opening bars of a popular and slightly ribald song. He ought to know better than to sing such a scurrilous thing in the presence of ladies.