I have a cousin who likes to talk on the phone. She usually calls at exactly the same time that I am ready to unwind in quiet bliss for the first time since the alarm went that morning. Truthfully, I don’t want to open my mouth in the evening for anything except maybe that nice glass of pinot noir staring at me. All I need to do is say, “Ahhh” and there’s no need for conversation.
Over the years I’ve learned that it is important to be a good listener first, so that when you do speak, you have something worthwhile to say. Sometimes I find other people’s choice of words peculiar in trying to describe something that is pretty commonplace and that makes it harder for me to listen for what they are really trying to say. It’s like they took that old SAT prep book way too seriously as they try to weave obscure words into their normal conversation. I want to say, “Huh?”
For instance, when was the last time you heard the word ‘pusillanimous’? Have you ever used it in a sentence or even know the meaning? Me neither. But not long ago a co-worker used that word during a casual lunchtime conversation. Needless to say, I’ll be sitting at a different table from now on. I like my lunchtime conversations to flow nice and easy and prefer to keep my words to no more than two or three syllables. Pusillanimous? Not me.
Not too long ago, I overheard an elderly woman describe someone as ‘blowsy’, pronounced blau-ze. That one, too, got past me. I just had to know what that meant but felt pretty sure it had nothing to do with women’s clothing. Trust me, fellas; never describe your mother, wife, sister or girlfriend as blowsy. If it gets back to them, you’ll pay dearly. Better look it up first.
Even our governor upped the vocabulary snob factor a bit when he used the word ‘sanguine’. It’s not that this word is so uncommon. But if he wanted to say he felt confident that his budget proposals would move the state in the right direction, then why didn’t he just say so? But “I’m sanguine about it”? This doesn’t work for me.
A few months ago, a student I know was asked, as part of a college application essay, to describe some personal quality about himself that he would want to improve. This important personal statement would be read by admission officers at some of the most competitive colleges in the country. This student indicated that he wished he was less ‘cunctative’. A little more than baffled as to what he could mean, I searched out the meaning of this unusual word. It took me about half an hour to find out. As this applicant barely met all required deadlines, I came to understand his self-analysis.
Now call me old-fashioned but I like simplicity and plain talk that everyone can understand. Because when our words are misunderstood, well, that can lead to a genuine kerfuffle.
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