Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Superfluous melee, lexicon lunacy. Retrospective love.

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 B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. 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.

    1. 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)

    1. 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.

  2. ‘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.

    1. 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’.

  3. “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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

  7. 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”.)

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

  9. 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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