Saturday, April 28, 2007

Confessions of a Word Geek

There's smart and then there's me. I'm smart--sort of.

I don't know the right thing to say at a party. I don't do social situations. I couldn't read a social cue to save my life, and the number in my circle of friends shows it.

I also flunked out of engineering school. Well, that's not exactly true, I left before they could kick me out, but the hand was writing on the wall, and the kind of smart I am can read.

I do words. I think words are cool. In fact, words are, for me, an addiction of sorts.

I can list twenty English cognates for the Latin verb that means "to send."

I speak English and Spanish fluently. I read Latin and have a stumbling acquaintance with French. I know half a dozen phrases in Mandarin, Japanese, and Hindi. Oh, I read Latin for fun.

Did I mention that my SAT and GRE scores were a little lop-sided? That happens when your verbal scores are off the charts.

My children call me at odd hours to ask the meanings of words. I'm easier than the dictionary, and nearly as accurate, including the etymology.

I know about how words change when they move from one language to the next. I know about how vowels shift when they get next to different consonents. Think of that as how you act differently when sitting next to very proper Aunt Mildred than when you're with your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Stupid things make me giggle. Here's my latest source of glee:

"Caesar" (in Latin, properly pronounced KI-sar) was the given name of a man who became emperor of Rome. In time, the "Caesars" were what the Romans called their emperors. One day, some Romans went to live among their neighbors across the mountains in what is now Germany. The Germans liked the Roman word for emperor, but they didn't care for the spelling, so they changed it to suit themselves; thus they called their emperors the "Kaisers."

Now neighbors will be neighbors, and little things like mountains don't really stop them, so some Germans went to hang out with the Russians. Or was it Prussians and Russians? Anyway, the Russians were always happy to take up the most fashionable thing, so they decided to call their emperors the "tsars", which eventually became "czars." I suspect that when they were listening to the German explain what to call the king, he sneezed, which accounts for the strange elision of the first syllable of the word.

I know that normal people do not think of things like this. I know that there are a few thngs I do well, and this is one of them. But, gosh, wouldn't it be more useful to tie cherry stems into knots with my tongue?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:39 PM

    I envy your knowledge of words :)


About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.