I say this in love: Noah Webster was a total geek. He knew 26 languages. Not letters. Languages. Don’t you find it odd that he knew exactly the same number of languages as letters in the English alphabet? I wonder if it was a personal goal of his to know that many languages. When did he find time to speak in them all?
I am convicted of the crime of not using nearly enough of my brain. So are we all.
In honor of Noah Webster and his overachieving ways, why not learn a new word today? My favorite word, learned in the course of a writing game played with my class, is mordant. It fits me like a sausage casing. I’d tell you the definition, but then you wouldn’t go use a dictionary on National Dictionary Day. Unless you already know the definition. In that case, may I have your autograph? And can we be friends?
There should be a National Thesaurus Day. Thesaurusing is a verb I’ve created to describe the process of trashing generic and overused descriptors, verbs, and even nouns, and replacing them with better, more vivid, more academically-mature words. I’ve gotten some doozies in the process of this exercise. When students don’t understand the flavor of certain words (or parts of speech), I get things like: I did a ravishing job on the dishes. Or: Her pulchritudinous lips were too much for me to bear; I had to osculate them.
I tell them I’d rather see a grammar misstep than nostep. It would be more a shame for them never to have broadened their brood vocabularies. There. See? I thesaurused “young” to describe their vocabularies. The noun young came up, and its synonym, brood, also a noun. See how easy it is to make a complete fool of yourself with a thesaurus? One who would write must be willing to write badly. I am willing. I’ve proven it. Now go and have a look in Webster’s Compendious English Dictionary (published in 1806). Today people run from words like compendious. Perhaps they’re afraid to show their broodness. Perhaps that’s the beginning of what’s wrong with America. To be a student I must be teachable; to be teachable I must be willing to not know something.