Posted by: suekenney | July 25, 2011

Word, Word, Word!

I love words.  Big ones, little ones – or should I say polysyllabic and monosyllabic?  Words like serendipity and snarkiridescent and copaceticglen and vulcanology.  I love words – how they sound – what they mean – where they come from. 

When I was a youngster, one of my favorite books (okay, about to confess my inner nerdiness here!) was a book from Scholastic called What’s Behind the Word?  It talked about where certain words come from and what they meant, some of the languages English has borrowed from, and other fascinating little gems.  In that book I learned one word that has since always proved a show-stopper in my English classes:  pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.  Yep, that’s 19 syllables and 45 letters long!  Love it! 

If you’re curious, it’s a rare respiratory disease caused by volcanic dust.  And it’s even longer than supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and antidisestablishmentarianism.  I’ve only seen a couple words that are longer:  a lake up in Maine, I think, with a name my mom could rattle off like nobody’s business, but would take up half a page in the dictionary; and some chemical compound with enough”ethyls” and “ases” and “methyls” to make any biochemist proud.

I love finding new words and trying to work them into my conversation.  And yes, I do enjoy perusing the dictionary from time to time, just for kicks.  I’ve had fun with and their words of the day and word picks.

So I recently finished editing some books for a friend of mine.  He claims to be not so great with spelling and grammar and such – but mercy!  the words he can come up with!  Several times as I was working on the books, I was about to correct something, then decided I should look it up just to make doubly sure, and voila! it was really a word! 

Rubbage, for instance:  I looked at that one and thought, oh my, he’s got rubbish and garbage smushed together in his brain.  I looked it up, just for kicks – and there it was!  An obsolete word, meaning rubbish, of course, first used in English sometime before 1869.  Mark Twain used the word in Huckleberry Finn.   But since my author friend was striving for an antiquated flavor to these particular books, rubbage fit in just fine.

Now, there are a couple of more modern meanings for rubbage.  One is “large pieces of truck tires found alongside the road.”  From “rubber garbage,” I would suspect.  The second is “rubbing a dog’s belly and talking baby talk.”  That’s a cute one!  Now I just have to find ways to work this word into my daily conversation.  Need your dog’s belly rubbed, anyone?


  1. I have read this excellent post, and enjoyed your love for the English language. However, I find it very hard to use a new word in my writing appropriately. Could you give me some suggestions?

    • Thanks. A lot of using new words is just trial and error. I would find a new word that you like – for example, one of my favorites, iridescent. First I would utilize, or any dictionary, and look up the word, to find that it’s an adjective (describing nouns and pronouns), and it means “displaying a play of lustrous colors as in the rainbow” or (going down a definition or 2) “displaying a spectrum of colours that shimmer and change due to interference and scattering as the observer’s position changes.” Have you ever watched a hummingbird close up? The play of the light on its feathers is iridescent – shimmering with color like a jewel. Then, as I’m writing, I would try to be aware of places where I might be able to use that particular word – if I were describing a hummingbird, or a jewel, or some really fancy, shiny fabric. Don’t use too many new words at once; work them in as naturally as possible. Me, I’ll sometimes write something just to use a particular word – not always the best idea. Give it time – and lots of practice.

      • Well, maybe hummingbirds don’t live in my place. But I have seen the beautiful creatures on TV. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with me.

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