As for my own bête noires, they are embarrassingly unambitious: “impecunious,” “pernicious,” “replete,” “pluperfect”… etcetera. There are more, but let’s take “replete,” meaning full, stocked, or gorged. Yes, I have a dictionary right here — but two weeks from now, when the word might come in handy, I won’t, and I’ll be hazy on it again. In this case, the reason I can’t remember its meaning (I’m guessing) is because it is too similar to “complete.” I have just decided I will remember it as a fatter complete and see if that works. As for the others, except “pluperfect,” I have faith that I will eventually sort them out. I confuse “pernicious,” “impecunious,” and something else with Ps and Cs and an “ious” ending, and if these don’t sort themselves out, I will continue to boycott them. “Pluperfect” I avoid because of a mental block originating with a sadistic English teacher sophomore year, the details surrounding said block I am advised not to comment on until the statutes of limitations have run their course.
For years I had trouble with words like toward, as opposed to towards. There are others (“apropo” and “apropos” for example). I have concluded that I will employ the shorter spelling, “toward,” only because it is more economical by one letter. The same goes for other cases where the “s” is expendable and does not denote a plural or plurality (another example). Even though “s” at the end of “apropos “is appropriate, I still amputate it, and I am still at large. Ah, “plurality” is a perfectly good word, but it reminds me of my friend and his symptomology.
Why Larry, who has studied chemical dependency for several years on both sides of the experience, insists on using “symptomology” rather than “symptoms,” is solely to call attention to his qualifications, and is therefore the symptomology of the insecure. Had Larry once used the word (and I can’t find it in the Oxford American) to refer to a science, a study of symptoms, I wouldn’t say so; but he never has.
There are words one falls in love with once one’s attention is called, and these we tend to hammer into the ground. I had that experience last year with the word “draconian,” meaning severe or harsh. Taken from the name Draco, a Greek politician in 621 BC who legislated execution for minor crimes, I began ascribing the word to everyone from landlords and cops to Roger Hedgecock and Rush Limbaugh. I now maintain a moratorium on its use.
Acquaintances will spring words on me, assuming I am equipped with some seal of approval. A recent one was “cherubic,” in reference to a bobble-head doll to be given away with donations valued over a certain amount. I was told that the doll’s head was the likeness of: “Father Joe Carroll! Can you believe that? The bobbling little cherubic face of Father Joe bouncing around in his collar and everything. Hey, John, cher-oobic. Pretty good, eh?” Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that the word might be considered impressive vocab ammo, but you never know.
I once identified a gangster character in a suspense novel as an illiterate dolt by increasing his vocabulary to a ridiculous degree. It is a kind of standard hack ploy in pulp fiction, but it’s still working, even on The Simpsons. In the first line of dialogue I had for Vincent Fratonio, he tells his moll-like girlfriend, “You look resplendent tonight.” Even though he used the word correctly, I believed it announced him as an idiot without saying so. In case readers might have assumed that the guy was just natively eloquent, I added, “You should wear cerulean gold and pearls always.” If the reader didn’t catch that, I wasn’t going to chase them.
For what it’s worth, here are these notes on increasing your word power. Take them or not, me and my ten-dollar words, or, hell, defenestrate them both. — John Brizzolara