Sunday, January 22, 2017

Whim-wham and other Delightful Words

Perhaps I have written of this before, but one of my favorite childhood memories took place in the second grade when I was given my very first dictionary. Our parents had to pay extra for them. The book was red and at the time, seemed hefty though it was but a junior dictionary. Miss Palmer, our Floral Park Bellrose (Long Island, NY) Elementary School second grade teacher, was BIG into reading and vocabulary. She had us competing to learn new words and look them up. She gave us stars and other stickers in reward for our lists of books we'd read. Wonderful!

So my love of words may have started then and was fostered all along by my parents, who were both big readers. Dad and I played Scrabble together until I got to be a sullen teenager. Getting my first library card was a true thrill. I enjoyed the company and attentions of various librarians and after a prolonged adolescence, became one myself. I still own the dictionary my parents bought me right before I headed off to college, the American College Dictionary (pictured above in its battered state). It seems incredible to me now that my little library in West University Place, Texas actually carried the multivolume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. It took up plenty of shelf space in the Reference section, and to tell you the truth, was really not used that often. But it was delightful to have on hand when etymological questions came in. Now we have Google but I still reach for dictionaries in book form because it seems quicker than wading through various web pages.

Only about a year ago, I signed up for the Merriam Webster Word of the Day emails. Just a few days ago, the word was "whimsical" and in the explanation of its origins, I found the word "whim-wham" which really made me smile. Whim-wham is a noun from the early 16th century that originally referred to an ornamental object or trinket. I've got plenty of whim-whams and I didn't even know it! And so I added that word to a small notebook I keep of favorite words. Often the words are odd or just beautiful to me in in any number of ways, including the way they sound or what they mean. Here are a few of them with brief definitions that are not in any way to be considered complete.

Alembic - anything that transforms, purifies or refines.

Bonhomie - cheerful friendliness; an atmosphere of good cheer.

Farrago - a confused mixture, hodgepodge or medley.

Glory - resplendent beauty.

Inscape - the deep meandering landscape of our interior life, as defined by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Jubilee - any occasion of rejoicing and/or festivity. Also the natural oceanic (Gulf Coast) phenomenon of an abundance of fish, crabs, shrimp swimming towards shore wherein people are able to scoop them up.

Lunation - period of time from one new moon to the next. Also the partial circles or cogs on the outer ring of an 11 circuit labyrinth.

Mazurka - a lively Polish dance in moderately quick triple rhythm (think Chopin...).

Rhapsody - an exalted expression of feeling or enthusiasm.

Yantra - a mystical or astromical design.

Perhaps no one said it better than James Michener, as seen on this dangling piece of art I used to keep in my library office: "I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions." Now this "Muse of Writing" (truly a whim-wham) resides in my art room/study. She reminds me to keep this blog going, even though I often feel the months go by so quickly and updating this blog seems like just another chore. Yet there comes a time when my fingers demand to type out some review or feature. Perhaps the blog is really an outscape from my inscape, to use one of my favorite words! And so it goes, meandering on long past the days when writing it weekly was part of my job requirements. More than seven years later, here I am and do consider blogging to be a privilege in many ways. Long live the freedom and democracy of the internet!

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