Saturday, July 9, 2011

Funky Words

My friend and coworker’s huge vocabulary amazed me. She regularly used words of three or more syllables, like plethora and brouhaha, her favorite. 

Then she retired from teaching at our small academy, and I inherited her English classes. In retrospect, I felt much like Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl when they became guardians of little Sophie in Life as We Know It. There must be some mistake! I don’t know what to do with this baby!

At least I discovered the possible source of my friend’s vast knowledge:  The Sadlier Oxford Vocabulary Workshop series, known to many students as the little orange books from…well, let’s not use nasty language in a blog about words.

I confess falling instantly in love with Jermome Shostak, the deceased creator of the series. I Googled in vain to find his picture, only to be mocked by repeated likenesses of the bright covers emblazoned with chunky pencils. Jerome remains a man of mystery.

According to the Global Language Monitor, the English language has 1,009,753 words ( Who is this Global Language Monitor, and how did he get the job? Does it pay more than teaching or freelancing? Maybe that’s how Shostak is spending his afterlife.

English has twice the vocabulary of Spanish, according to I share this questionable statistic not to claim superiority for my mother tongue, but to remind Senora’s students they could have it a whole lot worse: Instead of living in these United States learning Spanish, they could be living in Spain learning English. 

English’s plethora of synonyms, a bane to students, is a boon to poets and songwriters, especially those of the rhyming persuasion. What if the only word for house was…house? O give me a house where the buffalo….grouse? I don’t think so. 

Today’s funky word is DEFUNCT. You may have noticed I used it in my bio, referring to my alma mater. DEFUNCT means “no longer operating or functioning,” like my beloved college who closed its doors and sold its campus to the borough for soccer fields. When used as a noun, DEFUNCT is a synonym for a dead person. “Well, that’s sad,” I say in my best Jim Gaffigan voice.

DEFUNCT comes from the Latin word defunctus, a past participle of defungi, to discharge or finish. So if I’m DEFUNCT, I’m finished. But, what if I’m not finished? If I’m not DE-FUNCT, can I be FUNCT? Not according to, who asks if I mean FUNCTOR. Absolutely not, since the definition is written in mathematical gibberish.

But wait. Who appointed to be Global Language Monitor? It has no authority over me. In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, I declare that FUNCT is a word, at least until July 31. Use it with aplomb. Anyone doesn’t like it, tell him to contact me.

And now today’s blog is finished. But not defunct.

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