Coffee Share 200509: A Word Collector

This is a Weekly Coffee Share Essay.
I’m part of a small group of bloggers who stay in touch and chat about blogging, writing, or just about anything else that might be of interest.
Link to This week’s full list
Link to my Story Blog:  Table of Contents.

I’m becoming a collector of words.

It’s not a new affliction but one that has been within me for as long as I can recall.  For much of my life I’ve treated the problem with steady doses of recognized pragmatism—meaning; what’s the use of employing obscure words if few understand them?  If I ever yielded to the temptation of acting like a New York City literary artesian it most likely came of as being smug instead of entertaining, snotty instead of clever or, at worse, I was ignored because, “he’s just being Wilson again,” and everyone would walk off hoping to lose me in a crowd.

Sigh.  It took me a while to understand that few shared my passion.

Aggravating the situation, I have a complicating aliment in that I’m easily given to collecting things:

  • Gas station road maps (remember those?) when I was very young,
  • Hand tools because that genetic phenotype is dominate in all the males of my family,
  • Electrical components right after high school because this was how my ‘tool’ gene manifested itself with a bit of engineering training,
  • Books of almost any topic because I suspect I was exposed to a congenital bibliophile at an early age (and this remains untreatable even today, warning me to stay out of any physical book stores or risk impoverishing myself and family not to mention burying our home with volumes I intend to read some day.)
  • Wooden writing pens as an adult because, umm, what could be cooler than sanded, stained and oiled (and sometimes engraved) wood that you can both hold in your hand and actually use to sign the charge bill in slightly fancy brasseries,
  • Fishing lures as I was learning to angle because there is something hypnotic about these things,
  • Another round of maps when I discovered a simple subscription to National Geographic would result in luscious maps periodically showing up in your mailbox (simply intoxicating at a cellular level).

Anyway, after years of coping with my inclinations, I have decided that collectors like me are little more than hoarders with principals and that my own composite of attributes are simply inhered to my basic makeup and at best, I will manage to manage them into something fun and useful or at least tolerable.

These days I deliberately spend time reading things outside of my mostly blue-collar heritage where such language is rarely treasured. I do this because it entertains me even if it leaves me as coltish as some 12 year old girls are in their first gymnastics class. The graceful inclusion of such words in my speech and writing is a talent yet to mature, like a redolent loaf on the rise just beginning to smell better than ripening yeast. Even so, Iike a collector with new additions to his collection I keep at it because this is what passions do to us.

I’ve found it helpful to learn about and carefully use some devices that help both me and those exposed to my wordiness.  For example, who does not love playing with onomatopoeia?  To this day I could (if the building still stood) show you where I was standing when a peer computer tester at my first real job out of trade school asked me a question that I believe dealt with the storage of our lunches in the common refrigerator.  My answer included using the word, ‘rancid’, which I had recently learned and used with a playful emphasis that sent my friend into hysterics over how well the word matched his reaction to something he had discovered attempting to become self-aware and had to dig past to get to his own fresh lunch bag.  The rest of us were entertained for weeks as he went out of his way to incorporate ‘rancid’ into his daily conversation in ways that both stretched the real definition and quickly became as stale as the word itself was meant to describe.  He actually got very good at saying ‘rannn-ssid’ in a way that was sure to enervate your appetite.

Today, the new headquarters for Apple Corporation stands on the site of where I got such mileage from ‘rancid’ and to this day I can’t use it without thinking about much fun we had with my friend’s insertion of it into places where only teenage boys should have found funny.

A lot of these words, don’t fit well in my milieu.  My daily work requires me to explain things in ways that are very precise and (almost more important) easy to consume.  My consumers don’t keep any of us around for our clever use of English.  They don’t want to hit speed bumps of quick understanding of the details I’m charged with communicating.

This brings me to wondering; just how are these wonderful English artifacts to survive?  Part of the charm of unusual words is how rare they are read but this same rarity most likely threatens their existence in our fast maturing world.  Words survive only because they are used enough to merit recognition by the OED or other respected dictionary.  Left unused, they might as be added to the respected but unused vocabulary of Esperanto because words dying for lack of use become poison on their way to the grave and serve only to make their user appear ancient and out of touch with modern English.

Already I find that if the word I want to play with is dangerously obscure, I try to bracket it with a phrase or two that clarifies the meaning because, unless they are willing to query their phone, “Okay Google, define suzerainty,” few will make the time to crack an actual dictionary to figure out what you said.

The following is a short exchange I had with one of my sister’s boyfriends who my cousin and I loved to torment.

“Hey Roger, you know how they say, ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’?”

“Yea. So what?”

“So, you must be invincible.”

We thought just saying this to him was funny, until he responded with; “Okay, what does ‘invincible’ mean? Is it good?”

My cousin and I were in high school at the time and we turned to look at each other before bursting out in hysterical, uncontrollable laughter and we still reprise this memory-gem whenever we’re together and want a good laugh.

When my sister finally explained to him what the word meant, oddly enough, he did not think it was funny.

Given how embarrassed he was, I think the merits of collecting words certainly include not appearing to be an idiot when a rare but still useful word appears for your reaction.

So, while our coffee is still hot, how do you decide between using an interesting and vivid but rarely used word in speaking or writing, and do you have any other tricks to help your reader understand?



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Gary photo n bio

26 thoughts on “Coffee Share 200509: A Word Collector

  1. Your love for words (and the story about your sister’s boyfriend) reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Harlan Ellison: “I will use big words from time to time, the meanings of which I may only vaguely perceive, in hopes such cupidity will send you scampering to your dictionary: I will call such behavior ‘public service’.”

    Never give up such a habit! It’s a great one to have!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Elizabeth and thanks for stopping by. I’ve read some of Harlan Ellison’s work and he is both an amazing writer and a nut; very entertaining.. I had not seen this quote from him and it is perfect. I had a writer friend who knew him personally so occasionally he would share fun anecdotes of the man. Fun stuff. I don’t know if you’re a mom, but would like to wish you a great day either way.


      1. Thanks! Not a mom, unless you count my 126 students every year, and some of them definitely count me as their surrogate mom! Usually I get a gift from kids around Mother’s day. This year, it’s been kids contacting me to share their good news about getting into college or the military. Honestly, that’s the best gift!

        Liked by 3 people

      2. So well said Elizabeth. It was working with the kids in our church that turned me from not wanting kids of my/our own to can’t wait to have them. When they contact you about their good news like that – that has to be quite the payoff for your time and efforts.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Even I am bad in remembering the meaning of words (or should I say rarely used words). I come across a new word, google it, glance at the meaning and continue with my reading. Next time, I meet that word again and give it a blank look. This is my situation with words. I guess the trick (for me at least) is to stumble onto a new word again and again till it’s meaning gets stuck into my bones.

    Hope your situation isn’t as bad as mine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Moumita, Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Have you noticed how special each visit of any flavor is these days? I miss being out and about even if I am pretty much an introvert, I’m getting less than I desire of interaction with others.
      Anyway, my memory has never been very strong in the first place but now that I’m older, shockingly, it is no better. I have to work at making things stick. The trick that I just started using (for about 3 months now) is something like a journal. I really do read each day from something that I expect to be just barely within my grasp mentally and as either words or concepts pop up that I don’t understand and am interested in, I look up and record quick definitions and examples into that journal. The simple act of writing this out (by hand) crams the information deeper into the old gray matter and makes a much deeper memory than just reading the definition would have. I also do look for opportunities to use them in my writing or speaking – but that’s often problematic for the reasons I cite in my coffee share. Using too many BIG words can easily cause people to think we’re arrogant unless we use tricks there too to help them understand.
      So, I guess I play with the items in my collection too. Thanks for stopping by.
      Oh – today in the US is mother’s day and I know you are a mom but I don’t know if you celebrate the occasion today like us.
      How about if I wish for you joy and success as a mom. It really is one of the most blessed of callings. Give your kid(s) a hug and tell them that some strange man in the US asked you to give them that hug. Then let them figure that out. It may give you a few moments of peace.
      Blessings my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Gary for your warm wishes. Yes, we too celebrated 10th May as Mother’s Day, not in any grand way though. Just giving a phone call to my mother. My daughter is 9 month old. So too young to understand or wish Mother’s day. But let her grow up a little, I will definitely tell about you. Remember us in your prayers 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting Gary! I do believe words are worth collecting, most other things maybe not so much…that said I could see myself indulging in some things of particular beautiful handcrafted leather items (saddles, headstalls…,) I sometimes enjoy reading things that are totally outside my line of interest, and it often surprises me. It would be tiresome to do all the time, but every now and then. Thank you for some new thoughts this weekend. I hope you’re enjoying spring.

    All the best,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Maria and thanks for stopping by for a visit. If asked to guess, I would have guessed that you too are a word collector but in a much more subtle manner than I am. I do things in spurts or seasons. I see something like this more of a lifestyle for you. You have a deliberate approach that I think serves you very well. I enjoy both your writing and your personal notes as I almost always learn something new. You most likely know that today is our mother’s day. I wish you much joy as a mom and remind you that your daughter is so fortunate to have you for hers.


    1. Hi Trent. This does not surprise me in the least. I could have guessed that you appreciate the type of data representation and practicality form that a good map represents. I was glad to hear that I’m not the only person out there to be so driven.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t picked up any new maps recently, but then I haven’t traveled much recently, but when exploring a new place, having that paper in hand is so much better than a phone…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting collections Gary. If you have space for them and don’t mind maintaining them then good for you. Marie Kondo talked about keeping things that spark joy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Of course you are a collector of words.The best part is that it doesn’t clutter the dining room table or fill all of the kitchen drawers. Have a great week.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Gary! I like to learn some new words and often like to read things that challenge me to see them in use. Unfortunately, I rarely find good places to use them and they tend to slip away from me far too quick. It’s good to know that you are out there fighting the good word fight.

    Oh and just a curiousity, why the new comment form? Not a big deal to me, but I was wondering if there was some benefit to it that I didn’t know about. Thanks, have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe it was me, but I’m not sure why. It asked for name, email, and website, then after I filled that out and hit post, it asked me to login. I thought I was, so… Anyway, I logged in and everything is good now, so perhaps you can just disregard the question. WordPress can be wonky at times.


  7. Yeah, me too. That’s why I was a bit confused and thought maybe you were experimenting with something. I think for whatever reason, WordPress didn’t see me logged into my account an threw the form up as if I was using another service.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gary, you and I have a lot in common with our collections. I also collect books and was busted reading the thesaurus back at school and was also accused of reading the dictionary, which could well have been true. I kept a notebook for interesting words and their definitions for a bit.
    Here in Australia we have a show you’d love: letters & NUmbers: They have their wordsmith on the show, David Astle, who takes exploring and collecting big and obscure words to lengths which makes us look lazy.
    One of the issues I face with words is using Australianisms on my blog. Most of my readers are American so I usually put what these words mean in brackets afterwards. I also explain things so they make sense to an overseas audience. Well, at least that’s my intention.
    I forgot to upload my link but your welcome to pop by my place for a clandestine cup of tea or coffee.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You might like a book called the lost words, Robert macfarlane. Hits a couple of your sweet spots, adds to your book collection and your love of words!! I bought it for my mum, mainly for the illustrations (she is an artist) and the memory of my youth where the library van would turn up every 3rd week. I loved those books, and that service, cherishing the content of words both big and small.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I say, keep those words alive! Every now and then I will throw in a word that my middle school students never use. I shocked a little girl when I used ‘bedevilment.’ You’ve also got to love ‘hootenanny.’ Words just don’t have the same punch these days! I notice my vocabulary getting watered down as well. Have a great week, and let’s bring those rich words back to life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some great words get a bad rap because they are often used to show off. But if used share ideas or clarify something or teach someone something important; words are raw treasure.
      Thanks for stopping by Pamala.


  11. The are words that when one uses the convey the appearances of appearing to know what they talking about and everyone else is bot brave enough to ask what it means… yeah I like walking in that fine line.. I used to read the dictionary for fun then graduated to pretending to studying for spelling bee but we all just hoarders really waiting for just the opportune moment when what we hoard becomes needed or you suddenly find the perfect everyday sentence to insert a word…

    Liked by 1 person

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