Tripping, stumbling off the tongue

By Angela Shepherd -

Sesquipedalian, it’s a long word that basically is the definition of using long words. It is a mouthful to say, for sure. And it is one of those words that makes me want to dive into all words not commonly used to find the weird and the fun that is our English language.

It’s interesting the turns our language takes that even those of us who do words for a living are unaware of. I, for instance, have never heard the word, sesquipedalian. Try using that in a sentence.

I enjoy a blog called Grammerly, and I now have this new word in my vocabulary (though pronouncing it is quite another matter) thanks to it. And because of the post by which I became aware of this longish word, I also learned some others.

Though it is not newly learned, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is one that was brought up in the post. This, to all who have watched “Mary Poppins,” is a very familiar word, one of those words that sticks in your brain no matter how long ago you heard it. It is just a fun word.

“It’s something to say when you don’t know what to say,” Jane Banks, one of Poppins’ charges, said in the classic film.

I Googled supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Mirriam-Webster does not recognize the word, but the Oxford dictionary does. Interestingly, the spell check in my Word program has also recognized it.

There is also a 45-letter word listed in this blog post and it’s too arduous a task to even try to pronounce. Here, you give it a go – pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. According to Grammerly, it is a lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica or quartz dust.

The next one is not so sesquipedalian, but is nothing but vowels, which I did not know was even possible. But a vowel-iscious word is possible with euouae (pronounced something like yaw-you-ee). It is defined as “a type of cadence in medieval music.”

And apparently tsktsk, with not a single vowel present, is considered a word. As is cwtch, pronounced kutch (rhymes with butch). According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “the action of holding somebody close in your arms in a loving way.” But according to a article, the Welsh word also means “hiding place.”

Try this one out – floccinaucinihilipilification. Recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary, but not by Mirriam-Webster, it is defined as “The action or habit of estimating something as worthless.” Yes, we humans are good at that, but I think it would take much less time and effort to just say the definition instead of wrestling with that word.

I am not making this stuff up, I promise. As clear as mud sometimes, our English language is obfuscatory enough without tossing in these long-winded, many-lettered, all vowel, all consonant, and whatnot words. This is but a teensy weensy tip of a prodigious, pharaonic iceberg. So I won’t even get started (today anyway) on things like homophones and homonyms.

Today, along with some strange and special words that I will likely never find occasion to use, I have learned that Merriam-Webster might be a bit more staunch on what is granted admittance into its reference book, but the Oxford Dictionary has a bit more of an open mind, perhaps.

This looking into words business could go on and on without an apparent end if I let it, but I have to draw the line somewhere because there are other things that must be done. The point is, have fun with it all. Explore our language a bit, maybe learn a new word here and there and assimilate it into your vocabulary. Our language, while not the simplest thing by any means, can be a lot of fun.

By the way, does anyone know if that word-of-the-day toilet paper is still made? That’s as good a place to start as any, I say. It worked for Joey Tribbiani, after all, who expanded his vocabulary by using his novelty bathroom tissue. But that “Friends” episode was nearly two decades ago. In this day of technology at our fingertips, I’m sure there is an app for that.

By Angela Shepherd