Tuesday, December 2

Words, Words, Words...

I am a word freak, a language maven, a…a vocabularist. Okay, so maybe vocabularist isn’t actually a real word, but it should be because it describes me to a T. Last year, my pal/fellow editor/writer, Mae, came up to the lake to spend a long weekend with me. We wrote and talked and read and talked and ate and talked and drank wine and talked and… well, you get the picture.

One thing Mae and I share is a love of words. We are both fascinated with language and how we use it, especially unusual or quirky terms. When she got home, she sent me a note referencing something she’d read in political pundit Charles Krauthammer’s column. The word that she wanted me to have from it was Esprit d’escalier, which is the French term for thinking of the perfect devastating riposte that one should have given, but comes up with only on the way out, at the bottom of the staircase. Thus, “wit of the staircase.”
Esprit d’escalier—wow! What a great term for coming up with the right crushing reply just a little too late. And it has the added bonus of being French, which is always a win for me. Incorporating French into my everyday usage is fun and helps me remember enough of the language that I won’t embarrass myself next time I go to Paris (that is happening!).
 
Mon Amie is one my favorite endearments for friends and I often sign emails to my closest friends with, Bises, which is the word for the French way of kissing each cheek in greeting. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre is one of Son’s and my favorites. Translated literally, it’s “that’s life, that’s war, that’s a potato” but it means “That’s the way it goes” or “Dems de breaks,” and sometimes replaces merde (shit) when a disgusted French person is trying to be polite.  I use Je ne sais quoi (I don’t know) and je t’aime (I love you) often. Husband and Son simply grin at each other. They know French is part of life with Nan, and that it’s not pretension on my part at all, but rather just a love of the language. Using French makes me happy.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005ZI3EDM?psc=1
As a writer and an editor, I have a passion for learning new words and using them. I got it from my mom, who also loved language and insisted we choose our words well. She spent serious time increasing our vocabularies with word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Probe and crossword puzzles. To this day, family gatherings always include word games. Our latest fave is Apples to Apples—très fun! I’m a whiz at spelling, and if someone asks me what a word means, I can generally come up with the correct definition without running to a dictionary. My grasp of language and its appropriate use is part of why I’m a terrific copyeditor (I have clients who’ll testify, honest!). I adore discovering new words and finding ways to use them in my writing.

So talk to me—tell me your favorite foreign phrases—the ones that bring you joy when you have the opportunity to include them in a conversation. Or share a great English word that makes you gleeful when you have the chance to use it.

14 comments:

  1. I love words, too, although my command of German (the only language I studied) is confined to things like Guten morgen! and Wie geht's? I also had a year of high school Latin, and I love that I can still detect so many word origins, but my memory of the actual language doesn't extend beyond amo, amas, amat... :-) I loved the post!

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    1. Thanks, Liz! I've been a Francophile since I was a kid and taking French was the highlight of my high school career. I wish I'd taken Latin, I'd love to be able to discern the roots of words without using Webster!

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  2. Susan speaks French and German, so we mix it up. One of my recent acquisitions is Schadenfreude. It means "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others," but I use it ONLY about political topics. I'd heard of "Esprit d’escalier" but I don't retain French very well. It's opposite is also fun, though I don't know a word for it: getting the riposte at the perfect moment. The second wife of Susan's ex called one day and said, "Hi, I'm So-and-so,Mike's wife," and without missing a beat I replied "You have my sympathies."

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    1. I love that--you totally got the perfect riposte in at exactly the right time, Rob!

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  3. Great blog.....and gave me inspiration for one of my own. My Grammie's family came from Germany. We always thought they were Jewish (although she denied it (though she probably would in that place and that time). She had a whole vocabulary of words she used - which sound like a combination of German and Yiddish. I still love those words of hers. For instance, an old raggy beloved robe was a drunzel and if you said you were going to swintzle out the kitchen, you meant you were just going to sweep with a lick and a promise.

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    1. Great words, Vickie! You definitely should make a list! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Sounds like you had a fabulous visit with Mae. Loved the post and the new French phrases (thanks :) And by the way, I love 'vocabularist' too. Let's start a campaign directed at Webster's LOL.

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    1. I'm in, Barbara! Definitely time to start a new word campaign that's not full of trendy tech terms! So happy you came by!

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  5. I love words, too. How could I not? ;) But I don't know any French phrases. I've always wanted to learn French though so maybe that'll change. :)

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    1. Hi, Chris! Let's start your French lessons right now, okay? There's several up there for you to practice with, so have fun! So glad you you stopped in!

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  6. I love the Spanish: Hasta la vista. Goodbye for now, or until we meet again. And I love to add baby to the end. : )

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  7. Hi, Roben! Thanks for coming by and yes a thousand times to Hasta la Vista, Baby! I can so totally see you saying that! Hugs!

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  8. We lived in Iceland and adopted a few phases. Bless means good-bye an we used to say it when we left the house because the dog freaked if we said goodbye. Goda-note-I'm writing this phonetically--means good night and we said that a lot as well.

    My favorite word is one I made up--Expectatious--that feeling you get for no reason that something good is about to happen. And I adopted frak from Battlestar Galactica when I was writing Bix and it kind of stuck.

    Fun post, Nan!

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    1. Hey, Margie! Love, love expectatious--it definitely goes on our list for Webster! Iceland! How cool! ;-)

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