Sam smiled, too, at their bent heads and was encouraged to say that “at the moment Looloo thought of nothing’ but eating of all the dickshunaries she could find and went around chock-full of big words aspewin’ em out and destroyin’ the peas of mind of the famerlee.”
“Leaf through a dictionary or try to make one, and you will find that every word covers and masks a well so bottomless that the questions you toss into it arouse no more than an echo.”—Paul Valery, French poet and critic, Collected Works of Paul Valery: Vol. 14: Analects, 1970 [via Wordspy]
Sir: An obiter dictum in a paper which I read before the Modern Language Association last week has since appeared in a number of newspapers in a curiously distorted version. The following is a sample:
"A professor of the University of Michigan, being desirous of ascertaining the most hated word in connection with spelling-reform investigation, wrote to a thousand persons for their opinion, and was surprised when the majority replied that the most hated word was ‘woman.’ "
What I actually said was as follows:
"A considerable number of persons hate the plural form women, as being weak and whimpering, though the singular, woman, connotes for the same persons ideals of strength and nobility. It is for this reason, perhaps, that woman’s building, woman’s college, and the like have supplanted In popular speech the forms women’s building, women’s college, etc. It is noteworthy, also, that, in the titles of women’s magazines and the names of women’s clubs, the singular in most instances has been chosen instead of the more logical plural.”
It will be noticed that women was not the best-hated word on my list. That bad eminence was reserved for victuals.
I take the opportunity to say that any one who has violent antipathies to particular words or phrases, not traceable to the meaning, will do me a favor by corresponding with me. All that I wish is (1) a list of such verba non grata with (2) reasons for the dislikes, where reasons can be given.
“And it’s pretty safe to bet that if a fellow needs a six or seven-syllabled word to describe his profession, he’s a corn doctor when you come to look him up in the dictionary. And then you’ll generally find him in the back part of the book where they tuck away the doubtful words.”—Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son
“I was awed by his intonation of the word “Selah.” “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.” I had no idea what the word meant; perhaps he had not. But, as he uttered it, it became oracular, the most sacred of words.”—My Antoniá
“Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.”
“Formal grammatical rules may help a weak or stupid mind, but a vigorous intellect creates new and more accurate forms and less gifted thinkers intuitively accept without a thought these beautiful creations as they accept without a thought the countless creations of nature with which they are surrounded. Thus our language is growing richer from generation to generation.”—G. Curme, Has English A Future Tense?, The Journal of English and German Philolog, 12(5):528-529