I remember the day my dad said to me, “Is everything copacetic?” I was a teenager and had to admit I did not know what that word meant. (And English was not even my dad’s first language.) When I once tried the word out on my own teenager, he did not know what it meant either, so finally, 40 years later, I felt a little better about my vocabulary. But I do still like that word. Hearing it that first time left an impression on me and I use it with confidence. (It means “very satisfactory.”)
I’m guessing my eldest brother knew the word by the time he was six. There don’t seem to be any words he does not know. Ever. That impresses me, not in a way that makes me feel deficient, but in a way that makes me admire my brother’s ability to access all those words in his brain and use them with ease and comfort.
I like to read passages my brother writes because I love diving into the pool of vocabulary and frolicking in the nuances that make a word precise. The experience reminds me to look for the right words in passages I write, no matter what the purpose.
Listening to audio books, I often hear a word and find myself repeating it aloud. Something about the way it sounds and feels and evokes an emotional impression. I think, I want to use that word in a book someday. But I don’t write the word down, so I forget to use it myself.
Big words can actually be small words. Big words are the ones that carry just the right gradation of meaning for a circumstance or description. Big words are the ones that are unexpected, different, going deeper in the pool of meaning than the words on the surface that most of us splash around in.
Year ago someone gave me a book called Word Lover’s Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz. Every now and then I like to open it up and read some random words and definitions and wonder if I will ever find occasion to use them.
Here are four words and four definitions. See if you can match them up. Use a dictionary if you like—a real book kind of dictionary, where your eye and mind can wander form the word you are looking up to others that are just plain interesting.
the act of making friends
a man who does housework
pertaining to breakfast
a walrus-like mammal