'Schlemiel, schlimazel' and other words to use
I am truly chuffed by your sitzfleisch in taking the time to read this. Your kindness brings a quiver to my philtrum.
Translated: I'm delighted by your patience in sitting still long enough to read this. I'm so touched, the vertical groove south of my nose and north of my upper lip is quivering with emotion.
Please don't think me a princox (a conceited person) by showing off my ability to use fancy language. I'm just your run-of-the-mill regular Joe (or Jake). I have simply decided to boost my vocabulary by adding a new word every day to my repertoire.
There's what, maybe 200,000 words in the English language, give or take a few ten thousand, yet we use only a fraction of those words on a regular basis. The words are all there for a purpose; they certainly don't deserve to be ignored.
A word every day may not seem like much, but do you realize that in just 10 years time, you can become the master of 3,652 new words? Not only will you impress your friends (and your enemies, too), you will eventually become expert at doing The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.
How do you find that word every day? Open any page in your dictionary. They are many to choose from.
Or, you can go online to wordsmith.org. The wordsmith is my hero. Anu Garg is an Indian-American author who founded this entertaining website that not only offers "A Word a Day," but also a wonderful archive of words that have been featured over the past 15 years or so.
Finding a word is the easy part. But how do you commit that word to memory so it's every much a part of your everyday vocabulary as old favorites like "dog," "cat," "plaster," "online," "upchuck" and "floozy"? Simple. You use the word over and over again in sentences. Those with a sense of adventure can even try different variations of the same word:
For example, a recent word featured on wordsmith was "confabulate." That means to "talk informally." Here goes:
"My boss is all business at the office. He never wants to sit down and just confabulate."
"Hey there, cutie pie. Come over here and let's confabulate. Hubba, hubba."
"I thought she wanted to move on to the next level, but all I got from her was silly confabulation."
"The two political bosses had quite a confab. They divided up the spoils for the entire south side."
The fun is endless.
If anyone ever calls you a wastrel, they aren't being complimentary. They are labeling you a no-good person who is good for nothing: "Get out of my sight, you worthless wastrel!" or "His father left him the entire estate, but that stupid wastrel squandered it in no time." You'd obviously want to know what "wastrel" means ahead of time so if someone calls you that, you can respond by calling him a puny nebbish.
One of my favorite words of all time is "cuckold," and this, too, is a word that was once featured on the website. I just love saying things like, "That clueless moron has no idea that he is being cuckolded by his wife and the TV repair guy."
You might expect that a "catholicon" is a religious festival attended by a group of happy nuns. Not so; it is actually a cure-all: "The new drug had promising results, but it is certainly not a catholicon." (If you don't like "catholicon," you can always substitute "panacea").
Sometimes, wordsmith introduces some odd-sounding words, like "teetotum." I initially assumed this referred in some way to folks who avoid hard liquor, but it turns out a teetotum is a spinning top: "I can't take that nagging! My head feels like a teetotum."
Anyone who lived through the 1970s or enjoys sitcom theme songs will, thanks to "Laverne and Shirley," recognize the immortal words "schlemiel" and "schlimazel." Until recently, I mistakenly believed that a schlimazel is a female schlemiel. Actually, a schlemiel is a person who is habitually clumsy, and a schlimazel is someone who is often the victim of unfortunate circumstances. When their worlds collide, bad things happen. The schlemiel is the person who always knocks over his water glass at a fancy soiree. The schlimazel is the hapless sap sitting next to him who winds up with an embarrassing water stain on his lap.
Anyone who listens to a police scanner is familiar with the word "syncope," as in "Unit 83, go to 223 South Wippilappee Drive, report of a woman with syncope." For years, all I could visualize was an uncoordinated lady who yearned to dance but lacked sufficient rhythm. But since the word was featured recently, I learned, to my amazement, that the unfortunate syncope sufferer was experiencing fainting, likely caused by an inadequate supply of blood to the brain. For God's sake, Unit 83, get up there to South Wippilappee fast and help that poor soul.
It goes to show that though you think you know a word, you really don't. My traditional response to "hotsy-totsy" has always been wink, wink, nudge, nudge, when, in fact, it really means "just right" or "perfect." So, if someone tells your mom you're dating a girl who's "hotsy-totsy," all your mother can rightly infer is that the young lady has many traits that are extremely admirable.
So, my advice: Schlep on over to that bookcase and pull out the dictionary, or go online right now. Join the cognoscenti. The more words at your command, the more skilled you'll be at commanding words.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)