Tag Archives: words

What’s that word again? I KNOW I know it…

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I love words and using just the right one, whether in conversation or writing. I get a little zing of happiness when I retrieve the best word for what I want to say. It’s satisfying. Maybe it makes small difference to the listener or reader – not sure – but when I hit it, I feel my work is done. That’s why, when I can’t remember or nail a particular word, I feel frustrated. It’s important to me to be able to get it back. I want to stay sharp; I don’t want words to steadily drop away till I’m reduced to a marginal vocabulary and pointing: “that thing, there.” The way my brain works, I come up with similar words or words that somehow relate to the one I want. I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone. Probably not.

A little illustration. I was trying to think of a word this morning. Not because I needed it for a particular purpose but because I knew I couldn’t remember it, and moreover it’s one I regularly lose. I think the reason for that is because I learned this word, in its specific context, later in life. Maybe when you learn a word later, it gets stored in a dusty closet with junk piled in front of it in your brain. Not in the shiny, spiffed-up room where most of the words live, all ready to do business. Also, I’m not certain I’ve ever heard anyone actually use the word in conversation – it’s one I know I’ve read in books, though.

I probably spent 5 or 10 minutes puzzling. And as in the past, other words, somehow related (in what way I didn’t know) were coming to mind. So I wrote them down: foil, prawn, mussel, sting. I knew my word related, but how? I couldn’t rest till I knew dagnabbit! Relax, it’ll come to you. It has before, exactly this way. BEARD!!! The word was beard. Do you know it in this context? Do most people? If not, I’ll first say, without looking it up, the way I understand it, which is that if someone is doing something illicit or otherwise trying to hide what they’re doing, the beard is the person who “covers” for them. If married Jack says he is going to play poker with Sam, but really is going to have sex with Lila, Sam is the beard for the operation in case Jack’s wife calls up to check on his whereabouts.

The Google dictionary says:

2.US informal

a person who carries out a transaction, typically a bet, for someone else in order to conceal the other’s identity.

The Urban Dictionary says [with typos corrected, ahem]:

Any opposite sex escort taken to an event in an effort to give a homosexual person the appearance of being out on a date with a person of the opposite sex.

“Half of the women on the red carpet at the movie premier were not real dates, but beards.”

(I’ve heard the “date” definition but forgotten it. Somehow it doesn’t seem a good fit – I want a different, better word for that, maybe a new word.)

I can see how, for the definition-in-my-mind as well as Google’s definition, my brain retrieval system works via the other words that came to mind. “Foil” and “sting” have to do with the illicitness involved, the fooling somebody. “Mussels” have beards, which always struck me as funny. “Prawn” is simply another seafood (but they don’t have beards so far as I know.) Each time this has happened with the word “beard” I try to figure out some way of retrieving it next time it’s lost. I’m afraid, though, that I’ve already locked in the related words; mussel in particular. It’s something on a mussel, I think, something on a mussel…what could it be? Hinge? What else do mussels possibly have?

Maybe if I started using beard in conversation, it would become stored differently and be more accessible in the future. However, I cannot bring myself to start using it in conversation. Although I love “beard” defined this way – as a subterfuge – and wonder how did I went so long not knowing it – it feels made up. And if I said it, people would look at me funny.

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Short Thought 81 (“partner”)

I’ve figured out what my problem is with the use of the word partner when someone, gay or straight, is referring to their “significant other.” It’s all those Western movies I saw on TV as a kid. In my head I hear:

“We’ve been riding hard for days and ain’t seen nothing but tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes since El Paso. My pard’ner and I would be mighty obliged, Ma’am, if’n you’d see fit to rustle up some of them fine vittles and let us bunk down in your stable for the night.”

Short Thought 73 (numbers vs words)

I never know what numerical date it is. I usually know if it’s Monday or Thursday, but sometimes I get so mixed up on the date, I can be in the wrong week. I don’t know addresses; do they live at 36 or 38? Birthdays? Forget it. I know the month, but the dates get mixed up. Was she born on August 10th or the 11th? You got me.

It took a surprisingly long while to realize I remember words. Not numbers. Some people think in terms of numbers – trust me, I’ve met them – but it makes sense that as a lifetime reader and writer, I think in terms of language.

What did you MEAN by that?

I think a lot about social dynamics on the internet. Strike that, I think a lot about social dynamics. I tend to vacillate between the two theoretical end poles of human relations. One says at heart people are more alike than not and want the same basic things; to be loved and needed, to be accepted, to feel they are of value and heard. Essentially, the theory goes, if you understand that, you understand other people and can apply it to anyone and thusly figure out what they’re all about. And that’s how to bring on harmonious relations.

The other end suggests something quite the contrary; namely, that people assume far too much about their fellow humans and their supposed similarities to others. That people take all their own personal, subjective, culturally-imposed notions, mores, and definitions, and – wrongly – apply them blanket-style to everybody else. And this causes a heap of misunderstanding and trouble.

My problem, if it’s a problem, is that I see the validity in both points, hence, the vacillating. I’ve got both in mind when approaching social dynamics online. On the one hand, we’re all more alike than not and one can proceed from there; on the other, we’re all quite different and bring greatly varying ideas of what’s what to our online dealings. (Best of luck!)

Language plays a HUGE part I this. Until the day comes – and I think it will – when all online interactions show an actual talking person, and even emails look like Skyped images, people will continue to be overly reliant on words alone.

In each individual mind resides a vast array of definitions and more importantly, emotions, attached to the language they use. I remember how jarring it was when I first heard that people meant different things by the word “love.” Up until that point, I’d been walking around believing we all meant the same thing when using the word love. Distressing as it was to learn otherwise, I didn’t doubt the veracity of it. Where, after all, did I think people learned this universal definition of love? Perhaps little fairies magically visited everyone at birth and whispered the meaning in their ear?

So here we all are, slinging gobs of language about at each other, and quite possibly intending very different things by the most elemental of words. Clearing up misunderstandings, clarifying stuff, is now almost as essential a part of social media interactions as voicing the initial words. There ought to be a term for that. Speaking of… to be successful or at least functional at online discourse, a whole new tier of “net speak” has to be added to one’s repertoire (even if, like me, you refuse to use much of it, it’s handy to know what it means). Which just adds another layer to the language sandwich.

Even when you know someone offline, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the pitfalls of relating wIth them through social media. In fact, people may assume and project too much, imagining they know exactly the facial expression and tone of voice that would’ve accompanied any particular statement, or just what thought process was involved. But that’s not a given. And it swings right back around to where I started, i.e., how well people can and cannot know one another.