Words are funny little critters. Maybe my fascination with them began during college when I worked at the local bookstore. The part-time job supplied me with access to unlimited books, just enough social engagement to make me happy, and a little pocket money to buy things any college student needs, like beer and pizza. Every year, just before Christmas, the bookstore ran a calendar kiosk in the center of the mall and every time I pulled kiosk duty, I’d pass the time by opening the 365 Words block calendar. I peeked at the pages without trying to ruin the calendar and tried to pronounce the strange-looking words. I’d read the definition and wonder if I could ever find a way to slip pervicacious into my daily conversation. I never did. I don’t even think I ever remembered the words years after I had left the bookstore, but they were fun to say out loud. I must have gotten a semi-education along the way, too, because now I look at the words and think, ‘Pfft! I know these words. I could use them if I wanted to.’
I still love new words and I still fail to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary, unless they make an impression on me. But my vocabulary is already rich with fun words. I have so many, I end up categorizing them.
I have words that remind me of a grandmother I may or may not have had. I guess they remind me of the idea of a grandmother, much like I’m in love with the idea of carrots. Whenever I pass through the produce section at the grocery store, I pick up a bag. Then I end up tossing an unopened bag of moldy carrots a few weeks later. You’d think that would be the end of it. But without fail the next time I swing by the grocery store, I say to myself, ‘Oh, I should grab some carrots. I love carrots!’ This is how it is with words that remind me of my home. I don’t remember my grandmother. I’m not even sure I know her first name (Nanny?). But there are words that remind me of the idea of the grandmother I’m sure I had–in some life–and I love both the idea of the woman and the words that bring her forth. Critters. Yonder. Whippoorwill. Holler. Crabapple. Skedaddle. Britches. Idear. Dawg. Twang. Fiddle. Taffy. Pecan. Chattahoochee. Honeysuckle. Maybe they just remind me of a million other grandmothers I met when I was young. And sunshine. And warmth. And wrap-around porches. And crickets. And lightning bugs. And sweet tea. And manners. And love. Some are fun to say, others conjure up the very definitions of life. All of them remind me of home.
When I was a kid, I liked words that made funny sounds. For years, I answered almost every question with Zip-a-dee-doo-dah zip-a-dee-day, at least in my head. It was my go-to song when I was bored. Zip is a good word. So is dee and doo and dah.
Another good word is Zoom. A couple of years ago we bought a Mazda and every time I opened the door, I wanted a little voice to whisper ‘Zoom zoom!’ If you think this is strange, if you don’t like sound words, you are inhuman and you and I can never be friends.
Do you remember those old comics? When it got to the good part, the panel would be filled with giant red or yellow letters and a big paint splatter. Bam! Plop! Plunk! Why don’t we say those anymore? When did kerplow get such a bad rap? If we made sound words mandatory for office meetings everywhere, people would have a lot more fun at work. Just saying.
I still love words that make sounds. Which is interesting, because I don’t like real sounds. My husband cranks the volume up, I crank it down. I hate dropping by a website to read an article and right about the time I hit the third paragraph, an ad bursts into life. Some middle-aged man I’ve never met wants to know if I’m satisfied with the quality of my healthcare. I’ll close the page as fast as I can. I hate the sound of construction trucks outside my window, jackhammers and people yelling at each other. When we go somewhere crowded, my husband hates the press of people, I hate the cacophony. As I admit my shortcomings to you, I think I’m having an epiphany. I wonder if I like words that make sounds to compensate for all the real sounds I hate? Or maybe I think the surface sounds are so overbearing and I enjoy the little sounds more? The ones that are hard to hear these days. Tinkle. Clink. Shlick (I heard this sound the other day when I was walking past my daughter’s old school during the rain. Someone came up behind me and I kept hearing him step on the fine, sandy gravel that was just wet enough to scrape against his shoe. Shlick. Shlick. What a great sound!). Clack. Tap. Sizzle. Some sound words are sneaky, like lap. Doesn’t sound like a sound word, does it? But have you ever sat on a wooden raft in the middle of a river and listened to the water as it hits against the side? It’s too gentle to slap. It laps.
I also like words that may not imitate a sound but are fun to say. When I first came to Sweden one of my favorite words was champinjoner. I loved the way it rolled off my tongue. And I would draw it out, too. Like I was on stage in the middle of Hamlet. Forget about uncles and deaths. I was poor Ophelia who suddenly had a craving for mushrooms. So overcome with emotion, the word spilled forth, ‘Chammpiinjoooner.’ At SFI (Svenska För Invandrare/Swedish For Immigrants) they asked us to go around the room and talk about our favorite foods. ‘Jag tycker om champinjoner,’ I would say with a big grin (I like mushrooms). Or discuss our favorite things about Sweden. ‘Jag älskar naturen och champinjoner’ (I love the nature and mushrooms). We’d hit the pizza places at lunch and I ordered something with mushrooms, but I wouldn’t call it by the name on the menu (In Sweden they name pizzas. Things like, ‘Margarita’ and ‘Sassafras’. Okay, maybe not sassafras). I would pretend I couldn’t see those names written in tall white chalk letters and say all the ingredients out loud just so I could show off to the guy at the register that I knew this fun word. When the pizza came, I picked the mushrooms off because I can’t stand mushrooms.
Foreign languages are chock full of fun words. Latte. That’s a fun word! Where does it come from? Italy, home of all the best words like spaghetti and linguine. Some words are regional, but no less fun. Like caddy-corner and bufflehead. Last week I posted on my Facebook page how much I like the word brouhaha. I can’t remember if that’s regional or not, but I’ve been dying to say it. And I did! Three times this past week I got to use brouhaha. Thanks, Catherine Peterson =).
Some words are fun because of the misinterpretation. A teacher at my daughter’s school kept rambling on about jumpers last winter. I asked my daughter if someone was jumping off the buildings and told her that one day we would learn how to fly, but we were never allowed to jump off buildings until that day. Turns out the teacher, who happens to hail from London, was talking about sweaters. Now I think this word is hilarious. I have vowed to sneak this word into my conversation when I encounter English speakers in Sweden. I think overalls is funny for the same reason. In my head overalls will always be blue and have a pocket on the front to carry home captured frogs. Wellies, on the other hand, sound like something I would never eat, no matter what the local customs are, and I cringe when I hear that word.
I could keep you here all day. Words like cork. And jig. Why do I like those words? Because they’re small and powerful? I also like to say arcadian, penultimate, doppelganger (who doesn’t think that word is fun to say?) and walla-walla. I guess I like any word if it strikes a chord with me. Especially if it jars a memory, creates an odd image, or makes a fun sound. Short words, long words, serious and silly, it doesn’t matter to me. But do you want to know the best part about having a fascination with fun words? I get to pass it on. My daughter must have picked it up already. The other day she told me, ‘A zombie is in my house, so I’m going to let him tizzle and tazzle a while.’ I think she’s off to a great start!