Here and there, if you read, you run across some very colourful phrasing. Shakespeare was great at hoisting people up on the pike of witty rheutoric. Why kill someone when you can skewer them with a word and leave them writhing? It is the best ploy in such entertaining plays as Cyrano de Bergerac. What better than to leave your opponent withered, unable to come up with a witty reply? The effective use of great language, is a dying art.
I know this because I have peripherally ‘enjoyed’ my daughter watching some of her shows on Netflix. What is clear to me, is that the dialogue writers, in an effort to be ‘real’, have abandoned the English language. What I hear instead, is the “F” bomb being used multiple times in one sentence. Not just a little, to the extent that If I were paid for overhearing “F” bombs I would be a rich man.
It makes me shake my head. It is not that I am a prude or that I have never heard anyone swear, it is just that it has become a poor substitute for real expression. A poverty of thinking as it were. Should we be bringing back the idea of the swear jar? Put in a coin every time you let one slip? Or perhaps just hand someone a dictionary and beg that they upgrade their impoverished vocabulary.
One thing I do, is to read every single day. When I do that, I keep a “word of the day”, some kind of arcane word that I may have run across at some time or another, but perhaps momentarily forgot its literary meaning. I have to remind myself.
What is cool, is that somehow these words stick. There are even a bunch of words floating around in the back of my brain, that have presumably come from reading Old English literature. Once I wrote down the word “chimney” except that I spelled it “chimbney”. The extra ‘B’. I had to scratch my head confused for a moment and wondering where that one came from. When I Googled it, I realized that some websites that reference Victorian Britain still keep the old spelling of the word in usage. I must have at one time or another read it in a very old book. Other times I have been writing and came out with words like “ravening” and “froward”. For a moment I had to pause. Were those even real words? Apparently they were, stuck in the back of my brain. Looking it up I realized I must have absorbed them reading the King James Bible. No wonder Shakespeare did not give me any trouble in high school.
The fact is, if you love words, there are some very pithy and wonderful words to be found in your own language. Consider it a high art to use them to best purpose. You want to suggest someone should get killed? How about the word “defenestrate”?
That is the verb form of a word that suggests your best usage in life might be if someone threw you out a window from a great height. It apparently happened often enough in history that it was added as an actual word to the dictionary. The Oxford dictionary adds a few every year like this. They start out as colloquialisms and end up as language. This can include aphorisms, when you combine a few words to represent a new idea. A few from this year for example:
Schlockbuster: a movie which has made a lot of money, but on a very lame premise. Perhaps a lot of CGI but little plot.
Swellegant: when someone dons the outer appearance of style, and shows it off.
Twittersphere: the celestial space occupied by social media, in the form of active commentary for whatever is currently going on out there.
Gym Bunny: an urban socialite who spends an inordinate amount of time checking out the tone of her arms in a gym mirror, and hoping someone else is admiring her at the same time.
There are a great number of OLD words that are even better, because you can dust them off to show your superior intellect and just confuse whomever you are speaking to. The Bible has a lot of them, if you have ever read the old King James version.
Bewray: To point out, expose, make evident. “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.” (Matt. 26:73.)
Chambering: Lewdness, immorality, filthy living. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” (Rom. 13:13.)
Fain: Willingly, gladly. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” (Luke 15:16.)
Hale: To pull or drag. “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.” (Luke 12:58.)
Filthy Lucre: Money or gain obtained by base, sordid, or wicked means. “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre.” (Titus 1:7.)
Prick: A goad or sharp instrument used to prod reluctant oxen, also a thorn. “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 26:14.)
Scrip: A wallet or small bag used by shepherds and travelers. “Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.” (Matt. 10:10.)
Wot: To know. “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” (Acts 3:17.)
Son of Belial: This is a confusing one that appears 27 times in the Old Testament. For example “the sons of Eli were sons of Belial” (1 Samuel 2:12). An idiom not to be taken literally. Instead of Belial you could substitute another B* word and you will get the drift.
There are also a bunch of great historic words we should just bring back because they provide for so much entertainment.
Frobly-Mobly: Neither well, nor unwell. 18th Century.
Lanspresado: That friend at the bar who always conveniently forgets their wallet when it comes time to pay.
Callipygian: The quality or characteristic of having a comely and well -shaped bottom.
Ultracrepidarian: Someone who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about. 19th Century.
Twattling: Gossiping idly about unimportant things. 16th Century.
Snollygoster: a shrewd unprincipled person, especially a politician. 19th Century.
Perindinate: To put off from today what you can do tomorrow. 19th Century.
Peg Puff: A young woman with the dress and mannerisms of an old one. Old Scottish.
Groke: Someone who stares at you while you eat, hoping you will share. Old Scottish.
Shivviness: The uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear. Old English.
Fudgel: Someone pretending to work while actually doing nothing. 18th Century.
Cacoethes: The irresistible urge to do something inadvisable. 16th Century.
Slugabed: Someone who stays in bed long after everyone else has gotten about their day. 16th Century.
Bedswerver: Adulterer. A Shakespearean invention that come into popular usage in Victorian Britain.
Bobolyne: An old Tudor English word for a fool. Coined by one of Henry VIII’s schoolteachers.
Dratepoke: An old English dialect word for someone with garbled speech.
Driggle-Draggle: An untidy woman.
Fopdoodle: An insignificant and foolish man.
Gnashgab: An 18th century word for someone who only ever seems to complain.
Muckspout: A word for someone who constantly swears
Raggabrash: A disorganized or grubby person.
Rakefire: A visitor who outstays his or her welcome.
Saddle-goose: Saddling geese is a proverbially pointless exercise. Anyone who wastes their time doing it must be an imbecile.
Smellfeast: Someone who turns up uninvited at party expecting to be fed.
Yardson: A 15th century word literally meaning “the son of a prostitute.”
Whiffle-waffle: An indecisive, time-wasting ditherer.
And so it goes. The ability to employ wit through the adroit use of language drives the day. Next time you feel impelled to drop and “F” bomb, dust off your dictionary instead. So many great words... you could enrich the world, and yourself at the same time.