When I was in the fifth and sixth grade, Ruth Katz was my teacher. She was fearsome and effulgent to this timorous eleven year old. I now know she was daring and dedicated and delighted in the wonder of watching her students grow. But back then? Hoo.

She once made us collect little bits of trash so we could make “found art” mobiles out of our collected bottle caps, sea glass, driftwood and pop-tops. She “surrendered” her class each Halloween to a comely witch who looked and sounded just like our Mrs. Katz, but turned the lesson plan on it’s head to spin eerie stories and make us regale her. (Even the second time I saw this happen, when I was 98% sure this was Mrs. Katz herself, I still followed the witch’s instructions for the day … just in case.) She was dedicated and dumbfounding.

As it happens, those things I once thought frivolous actually made me a better person. Without question, she gave me a love of language, by starting each school day with the “Leapin’ Lexicon”.  Over 200 index cards, all with a unique and terrifying words for us to learn by day’s end.

It’s now thirty years later, and I whenever I use (or hear used) those words, I know what a powerful gift she gave me. Colloquy. Braggadocio. Serendipity. Loquacity (yeah you know me)! All these came from her, and her formidable nature, and even now I’m humbled.

What words are in your Leapin’ Lexicon? Teach me something novel!

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

a.real.girl

a.real.girl

A B Kovacs is a event planner by day, building community events including science festivals and charity walks, and plotting tours for the exceptional George Hrab. Additionally, she is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with skeptic and fiction author Scott Sigler.
She's a movie geek, Doctor Who fan, skeptic and science nerd. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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27 Comments

  1. Profile photo of That Moz Guy
    January 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm —

    I had a stage manager for a couple of years who used to do this every night. Our pre-show meeting would end with “the word of the day” and a small prize for anyone who knew what it meant. We has the classic words like zymurgy (even the beer drinking boofheads knew that one) and braggadocio (if you don’t know the meaning, just pretend you do). I don’t really have favourite words, but I do try to keep my vocabulary active (yes, that does mean “if there’s a longer or rarer word for this, I’ll use it”). I prefer funny words, like parsimonious (not using more of something than you need to… so it’s a very long word) and onomatopoeic (which is long and hard to say, but means “word that sounds like the thing it describes”, so you’d expect it to be short and mellifluous. Or at least “bing bong words” as my nephew used to call them when he was 3). I also like sequences like “redundantly repetitious rephrasing”. Then there’s tautologies and neologisms. I used “anthropomorphicistically” the other day, which seems plausible but I bet it’s not in the dictionary.

  2. Profile photo of The Bad Astronomer
    January 31, 2013 at 4:52 pm —

    My new favorite: anastomose, when separated streams reunite (the opposite of bifurcate, also a great word). I wrote about it here (at the bottom): http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/30/water_on_mars_ridges_in_craters_show_water_once_flowed_there.html

    • Profile photo of a.real.girl
      January 31, 2013 at 7:49 pm —

      I totally need a sciencey thesaurus. Also? While I am perfectly aware that’s a planet in your (not-so) new logo … I like to think it’s an empty set. :o)

  3. Profile photo of scottsigler
    January 31, 2013 at 5:17 pm —

    I’m partial to “travishamockery.”

    • Profile photo of a.real.girl
      January 31, 2013 at 7:50 pm —

      I do not think this is a actual word, but I steadfastly refuse to look it up, as that would be kind of a travishamockery. I think. Maybe.

  4. Profile photo of myriadwords
    January 31, 2013 at 6:08 pm —

    ‘Defenestrate’ (to toss out a window) is a personal favorite of mine. It’s particularly good for cranky days, as in “I’m going to defenestrate this computer if it doesn’t start behaving.”

    It’s (thankfully) not a real word, but ‘disirregardless’ is fun to drop into conversations that have devolved into language pedantry; the horrified pause it elicits is handy for rerouting the conversation back on track.

    • Profile photo of Filias Cupio
      January 31, 2013 at 6:59 pm —

      Yes, ‘defenestrate’ is also my favourite. When my brother introduced me to it at age about 18, I didn’t believe him until I’d looked it up in a dictionary. My second favourite is ‘transmogrify’.

    • Profile photo of a.real.girl
      January 31, 2013 at 7:58 pm —

      Oooooooohhhhh … “disirregardless” makes me cringe. And also giggle.

  5. Profile photo of davew
    January 31, 2013 at 6:35 pm —

    My bestest favorite is propinquity.

  6. Profile photo of Teletheus
    January 31, 2013 at 6:50 pm —

    “Penultimate” has always been a favorite of mine (and it drives me crazy when people use it incorrectly because they really mean “ultimate”).

    “Panoply” is fun as well.

    • Profile photo of That Moz Guy
      January 31, 2013 at 7:31 pm —

      Oooh, can we do most misused words, or words misused in the most irritating ways?

      One of my favourite “accidentally used correctly” descriptions is “quantum leap”. In physics is means the smallest possible change. Also in advertising. Advertisers seem to think it means “a huge change”, so you often see “now 1% faster” described as “a quantum leap in performance”. I used to wonder whether ’twas someone in the ad agency having a go at the client, but I see it so often I’m sure it’s become part of the vernacular.

    • Profile photo of a.real.girl
      January 31, 2013 at 7:56 pm —

      I will admit I kinda freaked out, then imaginary high-fived Eminem when I thought he’d used “panoply” in Not Afraid. Turns out I mis-heard “undoubtedly”. Would still be six kinds of awesome if he did, though.

    • Profile photo of weatherwax
      February 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm —

      I’m sure you’ve seen ‘The Penultimate Supper”

  7. Profile photo of James Fox
    January 31, 2013 at 7:00 pm —

    My effulgent wife teaches a class titled “The Teacher as Entertainer” and I suspect she would have loved Ms Katz and her weird and wonderful ways. And I’m sure Ms Katz would be proud of a.real.girl knowing that she didn’t grow up to be flagitious.

    • Profile photo of a.real.girl
      January 31, 2013 at 8:02 pm —

      Mrs. Katz was the bees knees as a teacher, much like I image Mrs. Jacob V must be.

  8. Profile photo of Buzz Parsec
    January 31, 2013 at 8:55 pm —

    When my brother tried to convince my nephew (then 7) to put down his Nintendo DX and go outside and play, he was informed he was nefarious. Whereupon, he seized the video game and was then told he was a barbarian. So now whenever someone does something I don’t like, I call them a “nefarious barbarian.”

  9. Profile photo of OrchidGrowinMan
    February 1, 2013 at 2:08 am —

    I used to go on road trips with my friends, for days, exploring the countryside, mountains and woods. We were all all of us botany-buffs, geology-geeks and entomology-enthusiasts. We would compete in one-upping each other with “five-dollar words.” There was a $5 bill in the car, held by the last person consensually agreed to have perorated appropriately and correctly; you got to keep it if you passed the “dictionary challenge” and the challenger had to replenish it. If you failed, the challenger got it and THEY had to pay.

    We always spent all our cash on road-food anyway, but it was an interesting car-game. It had weird effects though: by the time we were out of high-school, NOBODY would play scrabble with us, and we were indelibly marked as nerds whenever we spoke.

    But nothing beats the time in college when the instructor read-out the essay I’d written during the exam, and actually commented that “this student” was the first person he’d ever known to use the word “brobdingnagian,” and had even done so correctly. So that has to be my favourite $5 word.

  10. Profile photo of Jack99
    February 1, 2013 at 3:14 am —

    I had a dilemna the other day, so I looked it up
    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/is-it-dilemma-or-dilemna.aspx
    Turns out I’ve been wrong all my life, but I love it when I learn something new!

  11. Profile photo of arkady
    February 1, 2013 at 6:03 am —

    I love annoying grammarians with heteroradical words such as heteroradical. (Hetero is Greek for mixed / different; radical is from the Latin “radix” for root.)

    The other day I wanted to ask a question of all the straight women, gay men, bi- and panromantic people of any gender and anyone else attracted to men. That’s quite a mouthful, but fortunately my friends are clever enough to work out what “androphile” means. (See also “gynaephile” and “panphile”.)

  12. Profile photo of ursulaminor
    February 1, 2013 at 11:17 am —

    I’ve always been overly fond of Anachronism, because it is generally used to best effect in time travel stories :D

  13. Profile photo of ufischer
    February 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm —

    prolix is my favorite. Kinda like loquacious but a tad edgier. :)

  14. Profile photo of OrchidGrowinMan
    February 2, 2013 at 1:47 am —

    My background includes linguistics, particularly nonorthographic speech. Though it’s ever-interesting to pursue the obscure, unusual and sometimes perfectly-suited words in the dictionary, I bask in the words that it lacks. Some nonothhographics have conventional representations like “tut-tut” [“tsk-tsk”] or “uh-oh” or “unt-uhn” (lingual ingressive and glottal stops), nonetheless every language generally lacks some of the sounds (“phonemes”) used in some languages, and every language [seems to] have some exceptions to its own rules, so those peculiar exceptions stand out. If I were to learn a perfectly-suited Khoisan word, what a joy to whip it out in conversation!

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