Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vis-a-vis Myriad and Other Words

There are lots of words—myriad words as a matter of fact—in the dictionary. So why confine ourselves to a select and overused few? Why not say “myriad” once in a while rather than “many” or “numerous?” What’s wrong with “vis-à-vis” now and again instead of “in relation to?” Is there something wrong with calling a “dawdler” a “pokey slacker?"

I make it a habit while reading to look up alien words whose meanings I cannot reasonably infer by their use in sentences. I jot them down for posterity, too, because most of these discoveries of mine I would soon forget. Alas, not every brave new word resonates with me like, for instance, "titman."

I recently finished reading Nixonland, a compelling book chronicling the tumultuous political and culture-altering 1960s, as well as Eugene McCarthy, a biography of one of that decade’s most iconic and irascible pols. And authors Rick Perlstein and Dominic Sandbrook employ a full arsenal of words in their tomes, including several that were completely foreign to me.

I was unaware that a "parvenu" was “a person who has suddenly risen to a higher social and economic class and has not yet gained social acceptance in that class.” I personally know a parvenu or two. Also, I did not know that where there is a microphone, a "panjandrum" is very possibly nearby. This noun is defined as a “pompous self-important official.” And as for "jeremiad," which is “a literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom,” well…give me a few more years….

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