Essay: Rapturous Word Smithery

If I use the word rapture, what do you think?

Is it a feeling of intense pleasure or joy, or something religious? I recently used it, but reconsidered because of the second coming link. That’s not where I wanted my reader’s mind to go.

I’m not paranoid about selecting words, but many good words have been hijacked into meaning other things. I just saw click bait titled, “100 common slang phrases no longer used.” It included terms such as passion pit, talk to the hand, booyah, pad, or cat. Things change with words, phrases, and language in general. But I’m no linguist.

Admittedly, all words are subject to being absorbed into contemporary slang. Even lexicographers surrender to words morphing from misnomer to intentional slang to first or second-level meanings in dictionaries.

For example, gay as an adjective is often now defined first as homosexual (especially a man). As a noun, it means homosexual. Queer is another one that has waffled from meaning something odd, then to disparaging slang (homosexual), then back to acceptable, as in LGBTQ. I confess my confusion.

I try to keep up. I can say that’s cool and not be referring to a temperature, but I may be. Same with cold (as in cruel) in various uses. When my son started using the word bad to mean exceptionally good, I failed in making the sarcastic adjustment. Can we just stick with bad ass for that? Of course, that may also mean a tough or rough person.

I like it better when we make up new words rather than creating slang from old words that have established meanings. As it is, even when used correctly and in context, some words have so many meanings. For example, “the word set has 126 meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective,” and those do not include new jargonistic aberrations.

I just counted seven specialized dictionaries on my bookshelves. I like to read them because words fascinate me as much as spelling them frustrates me. Additionally, I use several on-line regular dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias (wiki’s) every day.

I got A’s in spelling in elementary school, “A” for atrocious. Now there’s a word nobody has screwed with (yet).

The nuns in my grade school taught me the word atrocious. I heard it often and haven’t forgotten. If only my spelling was better. It’s embarrassing to call myself a writer and spell so poorly.

However, Bill Bryson helps reduce my guilt feelings in his book “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” by telling of the physicist Richard Feynman’s intended retort to other professors who complained about their students’ failure to correctly spell particular words. It was, “Then there must be something wrong with the way you spell it.”

In the same book, Bryson (who I love to read) goes on to say of our language,

“One of the abiding glories of English is that it has no governing authority, no group of august worthies empowered to decree how words may be spelled and deployed. We are a messy democracy, and all the more delightful for it. We spell eight as we do not because that makes sense, but because that is the way we like to spell it. When we tire of a meaning or usage or spelling – when we decide, for example, that masque would be niftier as mask – we change it, not by fiat but by consensus. The result is a language that is wonderfully fluid and accommodating, but also complex, undirected and often puzzling – in a word, troublesome.”

I find that rapturing, as in when rapture means ecstasy, bliss, exaltation, euphoria, elation, joy, enchantment, delight, happiness, and pleasure. My feet are planted firmly on the ground and shall remain so, no matter who’s coming or how often.

Look both ways when wordsmithing or researching meaning and spelling.
Mind the gaps in dictionaries, they often mean something.
With your merciful pardon and leave, I shall write on, seeking
the dispensation and assistance of good spellers.
My eternal envy and gratitude are theirs.

Optimistic

OI consider myself a realist. Don’t we all? I recall a comment someone made to me a number of years ago. She considered herself to be a spiritually positive person. She read and followed all the right spiritual gurus, in her option. As we were talking, I used the word reality. She told me that was negative. Really? I haven’t quite figured out why I saw conflict between her negative view of reality; and her positive, optimistic thinking, but she didn’t see an inconsistency at all. I didn’t understand then and don’t now. In fact, if she considers herself to be a positive person, but sees reality as negative, I must conclude that she’s not only a pessimist, but she is in denial about it. She may have been Pollyannaish. Believing in a positive outcome and things will work out for the best in the end is fine. But even being absurdly optimistic is not the same as seeing reality as negative.

According to Bill Bryson, the terms optimistic and pessimistic “should be used to describe a general outlook rather than a specific view….” Some people have changed the ending of old tales to “and they lived happily ever after.” Is that more optimistic or positive than “…happily for their remaining years.”? Both are positive outcomes. One has a realistic limit, but it is still good. Having positive thoughts is good and often leads to improved results, but better words (still leaning on Bryson) might be hopeful or confident. They’re optimistic, but fit better with the specific situation and the level of consequence for most daily encounters.

optimism-quoteI like to think of myself as a realistic-optimist. (If a presidential candidate can be a democratic-socialist, then there is precedent for my claim.) But I have interesting discussions with people who would say that I am negative or pessimistic because I foresee less than desirable outcomes if reality is not respected. Most of us seem to have good days and bad. Assuming that they will all be good henceforth is denial of reality. We will continue to have natural and man-made disasters. That is reality. Making preparations for emergencies so that we can have the best possible outcome is optimism. Doing nothing is denial that often leads to further disaster.

opportunistI believe that a balanced outlook is the key to a healthy life and a healthy world. We need not assume the worst, but blocking out, or ignoring, the inevitable is not being optimistic. It is being foolish.