Monday, September 05, 2011

The Word Collector

When I was younger, I loved to collect words. I'd relish each new discovery, store it away in my memory, and then trot it out for use whenever the opportunity offered. But somewhere along the way, I pretty much quit doing that. It wasn't a conscious decision; it wasn't even something I was aware had happened. I guess I got lazy. Or maybe just distracted.

Then, a couple of months ago, I stumbled across a word (for the curious, it was canard) and thought, That's a word I know, but I never use it. Then, a few hours later, I ran across another such word. And a few hours after that, a third such word presented itself to me. It was obviously a sign. But because my memory is not what it used to be, I knew if I didn't write the words down, they would fade again from my consciousness. So I got out a Post-It note, wrote down the three words, and stuck it up on my monitor with a mental note to stop being so lazy and make it point to move these words from my passive into my active vocabulary.

And then a strange thing happened. I started noticing lots of such words, or words I didn't know at all but wish I did. Soon, my Post-It was covered. I switched to a note card. Now I have two cards covered front and back; I'm thinking about buying a little empty book. But you know what? I'm still not using them. So I thought I'd share some of them, which is sorta like using them, only not quite. So here we go, in no particular order:

Ailurophile
A cat lover.

Desuetude
Disuse.

Gluckschmerz
From the people who brought us Schadenfreude, this one means unhappiness at the pleasure of others.

UPDATE A word of warning: a German reader tells me he's never heard of Gluckschmerz, which evidently should be spelled Glücksschmerz if it did exist. But I still think it's a great word and ought to exist even if it doesn't!

If you have favorite little-known or little-used words, feel free to send them in. I'm still collecting!

19 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool. I've been fiddling around with my fantasy word collection just lately. Thinking eventually of publishing it on kindle, maybe.

Debbie in Florida said...

I love to study encyclopedic dictionaries too. How words are related and what is it, lexicology? Moral Pulchritude and Intestinal fortitude... I want to tell you that I just finished The sixth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series and am addicted to your hero and heroine. I have always loved mystery fiction set in Britain and other times periods. Anne Perry is one of my favorites. Thanks for your books and sharing your knowledge of 19th century European history with us your readers. Debra

Steve Malley said...

Y'know, it's funny-- I do love my big and exotic words, but almost never use them in my fiction. Any time I feel the temptation to haul out a five-dollar word where a couple of ten-cent ones will do, I think of Dean Koontz and the urges passes... :)

paz said...

Love Gluckschmerz!!!! The word, I mean, because the sentiment is the deadliest of sins in my book.

Now, I want to make sure I am using it correctly. So would the following statement, "The current antipathy towards public sector workers, including teachers, is fueled in part by Gluckschmerz on the part of non-unionized workers" be gramatically correct, (even if you disagree on principle)?

cs harris said...

Charles, I'd love to see it.

Debbie, thanks so much. It's always so uplifting to hear that someone is enjoying my series.

Steve, yeah, I try to resist the temptation to use them in fiction. But I still love great words. I also find it puzzling that some of them are not better known.

Paz, to be frank, I'm not sure I've ever seen it used! But this is one I definitely intend to add to my active vocabulary because it's an emotion we can all relate to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I AM German and I have never heard of the word Gluckschmerz. The Duden, a standard German dictionary, does not know it either – no matter what spelling I tried (what with the pesky umlaut in there; and for Germans, it would make more sense to spell it Glücksschmerz with a double s). I quizzed my colleagues and toured the internet, but Glücksschmerz appears to only be used in some romantic poetry and songs. However, it has a different connotation as in being overwhelmed by happiness and thus feeling some pain.
It might be that the word has a different origin and thus a different meaning.

As a first-time commenter I would like to add that I very much enjoy the Sebastian St. Cyr series and have been lurking on your blog for quite some time now!

cs harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cs harris said...

Anon at 3:33, thanks for that information! How very interesting. Although I think that if it isn't a word it ought to be, because it certainly fills a hole.

I've updated the post with your information.

Jan Power said...

Hi Candy,

I think I am your biggest fan ever, but have lurked being shy. However this subject is one of my avocations. A treasured gem in my word collection is absquatulate. If you are walking along and see someone you want to avoid, you hie the hence the other way undetected. It is one of those 19th C American jerry-built words, a product of the craze at that time in making up new words based on Latin combining forms.

And one never grows tired of onamonopia. Ding!

Firefly said...

What about Gourmandizer and Rumthefusal? Words my late mother used when ever she saw someone over eating or something that was old & falling apart!! Not sure where she picked the second one up from. It is certainly not in the Oxford dictionary! I suspect it was from the private language spoken among family members!

Judith Starkston said...

I've always been partial to defenestrate, as in to throw something out a window. Each year when my Latin students learned the word for window, fenestra, they'd see listed among the words in English derived from it, defenestrate, and they would laugh. But frankly I think it's a splendid word, although I have yet to find a circumstance to use it!

paz said...

Judith, don't know if it helps, but in Spanish you could say that someone defenestrated someone else, ie. killed them by throwing them out the window (oft-used offing mechanism in action-adventure films). Someone is also defenestrated if they are suddenly removed from office or from a job (more obscure connection).

cs harris said...

Jan, thank you. And I love absquatulate! I've added it to my list.

Firefly, Gourmandizer and Rumthefusal are both new to me. What mouthfuls! I can't find the latter anywhere, either. Wonder where she got it from?

Judith, I've always loved it, too, but I suspect the modern invention of windowscreens has limited opportunities for its use. How funny that there would be a word for throwing something out a window.

Paz, okay, that's even funnier!

Carl Bender said...

Speaking of words, and I have a dictionary at my side to make sure I have an understanding of Regency English, I was taken aback in "Where Shadows Dance" when William Franklin took a "drought" of ale. I did a double-take, as "draught" would have been my chosen word.

Anonymous said...

Gluckschmerz is not the basis of antipathy towards public sector or union wages. The outrage of being robbed might find you closer to the truth.

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