Monday, January 24, 2011

Word Power

Today’s screed is about coincidence. It is the tale of an ironic coincidence and how not understanding what you’re reading can spoil (at least partly) the impact of a book. But first let’s get a couple things straight…

co•in•ci•dence [koh-in-si-duh ns]
1. a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance: Our meeting in Venice was pure coincidence.
2. the condition or fact of coinciding.
3. an instance of this.
1595–1605; coincid(ent) + -ence

—Related forms
non•co•in•ci•dence, noun
pre•co•in•ci•dence, noun
su•per•co•in•ci•dence, noun

1. accident, luck, fate.
I have often been told by friends and acquaintances that I have an extensive vocabulary; one with a disproportionately large quantity of arcane words. In fact, there are those (and you know who you are…) who accuse me of going out of my way to use obscure words and phrases. It is never quite certain (except for one notable exception) what the accuser thinks I stand to gain from making myself impossible to understand, but nevertheless, it has been said that I do this anyway.

I can only think of one time I ever did use words intentionally to befuddle my audience; but in that case, it was under extreme provocation and, I think you will agree, warranted. In the case in point, I was having dinner with some friends and one of them pointed-out to me that I had made a mistake in something I had just said. She continued to good-naturedly rib me for the faux pas beyond the point it was funny any longer.

So, I climbed up onto my high horse, put on my best stilted expression, and very condescending tone, “You needn’t be so damn pedantic about it!”

My friends stopped their jeering and one of them looked at me, perplexed. “Is that some sort of slam?” she asked.
My tongue-in-cheek response was “Could you not tell from the pejorative tone I used?”

“Now you’re doing it on purpose!” she retorted.

But I digress. I talk about coincidence and my vocabulary because of something that happened last week at my book club. We had read Company by Max Barry and I made the comment that the “enemy” company (the one to whom, it seemed, everyone who left Zephyr went) sounded a bit like “insidious.” For reasons I cannot go into without spoiling one of the main points of the plot, I found this to be humorous.

I made this observation to the book club and one of my compatriots pointed out that the name of the rival company was actually a real word. I’d never heard the word before. (I’ve since looked it up and the name of the rival being “Assiduous” is funnier than the play on words I had thought he was making.)

as•sid•u•ous [uh-sij-oo-uh s]
1. constant; unremitting: assiduous reading.
2. constant in application or effort; working diligently at a task; persevering; industrious; attentive: an assiduous student.
1530–40; < L assiduus, equiv. to assid ( ēre ) to sit near, beside, dwell close to ( see assess) + -uus deverbal adj. suffix; see -ous

—Related forms as•sid•u•ous•ly, adverb as•sid•u•ous•ness, noun un•as•sid•u•ous, adjective un•as•sid•u•ous•ly, adverb un•as•sid•u•ous•ness, noun

—Synonyms 1. continuous, tireless, persistent. 2. studious, diligent, sedulous.

—Antonyms 1, 2. inconstant, lazy.
Coincidentally, not three days after I had uttered the words Really? I’ve never heard the word before.” Someone used it this weekend on the radio. One of the players on WaitI Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR News Quiz game show, described John McCain as having spent his entire political career “assiduously alienating every voter in his home state of Arizona.

As the old Readers’ Digest section used to say: “it pays to enrich your word power!”

Wherever you are today I hope you’ll assiduously enrich your vocabulary!

Don Bergquist – January 24, 2011 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

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