You thought I was going to say “things,” right? as in the song from “The Sound of Music”?
No, I’m talking about favorite words. I tell the students that I tutor to make friends with words and to keep track of words they like. I have decided to take my own advice.
Recently I felt drawn to the word craven, which means cowardly, contemptibly lacking in courage. Although I have known about this word for some time, I recently came across it in a political article, and I thought it the perfect word for the context. I’ve been savoring it and have even attempted using it in a few conversations. I’ve been trying to think of a context in which I could write about it–and I have found it: this blog about favorite words–some of mine, and some beloved by other people.
A new student of mine recently told me that he really likes the word crisp. I agree–once he mentioned it, I realized what a perfect word it is. The word itself sounds crisp; one of its definitions is “firm, dry, and brittle, especially in a way considered pleasing or attractive.” The English eat crisps, and last Tuesday I baked a peach crisp. On a cool, clear day, the air may said to be crisp. Sometimes the ATM gives me crisp, new twenty-dollar bills. A crisp feeling is now going through my soul, and I will face the day with alacrity!
This morning I asked my husband what his favorite word is. (I had a pretty good idea that it would be one of these: moraine, glacier, mine tailing, or decant.) He told me it was decant, which means to draw off (a liquid) without disturbing the sediment or the lower liquid layers. He often decants wine from a bottle into a vessel called, most appropriately, a decanter. This juicy word can also be used in a more metaphorical sense. For example, one could say, “We decanted our dachshund from the filthy dungeon in which he had been detained.”
A seventh grade writing student who has been learning Greek and Latin word roots as part of his writing sessions especially liked the word ventriloquist. Having never seen one on T.V., he was forced to imagine what the literal etymological meaning of “someone who seems to speak through their belly” might look like.
Speaking of words from Greek and Latin, my sister likes the word apocryphal, and my brother-in-law the word fungible. An adjective, Apocryphal means “of doubtful authenticity, most likely not factual.” This is a useful word in these times. Fungible means something (like a commodity) that is interchangeable. Money, lumber, wheat, and electrons are all fungible. When you buy something online, you do not have to send specific banknotes to the company; your bank sends money for you digitally, which is just as valid.
My mother-in-law loves the word serendipity, the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. She remembers when she first saw it, in a billboard driving home from lake Tahoe. She was intrigued, and so she looked it up in the dictionary when she returned. Not only does this word have a nice, bouncy sound, its meaning is rather charming, as is its origin. (An Englishman noticed, or remembered that he had noticed, that the characters in a Persian fairy tale called the Three Princes of Serendip “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”)
Do you have a favorite word? Contact me and let me know.
Janet Stephens is a tutor and writer living in Berkeley, California.