Humour

I’ll take: “You Sound like a Tool” for $100, Alex

I like to think of myself as being on a constant  journey of self-improvement. Granted, this journey is generally somewhat static- but every once and a while, I’ll attempt a bit of a surge forward.

One of these such attempts happened about a year ago, when I signed up to receive the “word of the day” through e-mail. My rationale for this was as follows: I like words. I use them sometimes. Why not use even BIGGER ones.

This was going to be great, I thought to myself as I filled in my information. My vocabulary will  increase 10-fold, and even small children (haaay Lola) and household pets will be impressed by my cunning vernacular. Only, I needed some sort of measure to keep myself accountable; something to ensure that this endeavour didn’t fall by the wayside like my previous attempts at self-improvement, such as flossing (over-rated) using reusable grocery bags (annoying) and learning to play the guitar (callused fingers? not so much a time). I decided that a good idea would be to challenge myself to use each day’s word at least once in a sentence- no excuses.

Sounds easy enough…..right?

Friends, let me tell you- if you have ever attempted to use a word you have just learned in general conversation for the first time, you know what a stressful, and humbling experience this can be.

If your use of the word is pre-meditated, you might spend an enormous amount of time plotting potential conversations you might casually drop it into; or practice saying the word in front of the mirror repeatedly in order to ensure proper pronunciation when the moment arises. If your use of the word is spur of the moment (a “crime of passion”,you might say), you will likely spend the following  15 minutes after you say it feeling self conscious; much like the first time you use the name of that-random-friend-of-yours-new girlfriend, praying to god that it was indeed Carolyn and not Caroline. 

In both situations, you may search the faces of those around you for non-verbal clues as to whether or not you have used the word correctly, anxiously misreading every smile, or chuckle by your friends as being directed at you and your glaring  illiteracy.  If, however, the requisite time has passed and no one has called you out on it, (or better yet, others actually nod in agreement) you might feel a sort of euphoric high- much like the sensation I imagine a criminal feels after getting away with the perfect crime.

Socially Awkward Penguin knows what I'm talking about....

I somehow managed to push these intrusive thoughts to the side by giving myself a little mental pep-talk (complete with a “YOU GOT THIS!“) before opening up my e-mail to uncover the first day’s word:  

Misnomer \mis·no·mer\
1.a misapplied or inappropriate name or designation.
2.an error in naming a person or thing.
 
Booya!! I thought to myself, as I did a silent little fist pump. Anyone who has been to law school (or likely any other professional program, for that matter) knows that this is probably one of, if not THE most overused words in the legal community. Since I was working as an articling student at a law firm at the time, I knew this was going to be a breeze. I casually let it drop that day during a lunchtime conversation with my fellow articling students about some vague political idea, and was met with several enthusiastic “OMG, I know, right?”‘s . 
 
Like shooting fish in a barrel.
 
Feeling overly confident, I approached the next day with the swagger of a legitimate wordsmith. Bring it on, Dictionary.com, I thought.
 
I opened my e-mail, and was greeted with the following:
 
bacchanalia \bak-uh-NAIL-yuh\, noun:

1. (plural, capitalized) The ancient Roman festival in honor of Bacchus, celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry.
2. A riotous, boisterous, or drunken festivity; a revel.

Well then. This looked like it was going to be a bit more of a challenge. 

It seemed unlikely that the literal, capitalized definition of this word was going to come up in everyday conversation (although, I wouldn’t put it past law students to shoot the breeze about the Ancient Romans), and so I realized I was probably going to have to creatively work it into some form of analogy. Maybe I could use my sense of humour to take the edge off, you know.. make it seem like a joke.

I waited patiently all day for an opportunity to use my new word to arise; and then finally, when someone at work began discussing their child’s birthday party that had taken place the previous weekend,  I sensed that my moment had come. I hesitated only slightly before deciding to go for it:

 “wow… what a ‘bacchanalia’ that mustve been!” I exclaimed, laughing nervously.

In a gametime decision, I had chosen to throw air quotes around the offending word, hopeful that this might lessen the blow. It quickly became obvious that this was a bad choice. If I didn’t know firsthand how meticulously our offices were cleaned each day (after having spent many a late night at work), I would have sworn I heard the sound of crickets. 

After that, things pretty much went downhill from there. Each day, I checked my email and found words that were more and more obscure:  

katzenjammer \KAT-suhn-jam-er\ , noun;

1.The discomfort and illness experienced as the aftereffects of excessive drinking; hangover.
2.Uneasiness; anguish; distress.
3. Uproar; clamor.
 
{Or, 4. that feeling that you, who have just heard me attempt to use this word, are likely experiencing right now}

 

braird \BRAIRD\, verb:

1. To sprout; appear above the ground.

{like the extra head you perceive me to be growing}

pleonasm \PLEE-uh-naz-uhm\, noun:

1. The use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; as, “I saw it with my own eyes.”
2. A superfluous word or expression.

{My thoughts exactly}

Autoschediasm  \aw-toh-skee-dee-az-uhm \ ,noun

 1. something that is improvised or extemporized
 
{Like your attempts to act like this didn’t just get weird right now. Thanks for that}.
 
Sockdolager  \sok-dol-uh-jer \ noun, Older Slang .
1. something unusually large, heavy, etc.
 
{TWSS??}

Opening my e-mail to find the word of the day began to feel less like a challenge and more like a sentence. What ridiculous word was I going to have to force awkwardly into conversation today? How many more people were going to avoid me in the servery??

Sadly, I realized that my use of these words was doing nothing to further my journey of self-improvement… rather i was REGRESSING, and steadily moving down the spectrum to becoming a complete and total douche bag. 

The fact of the matter is, that having an extensive vocabulary, like most other things in life- subscribes to the law of diminishing returns. Sure, its nice to be able to throw out words like “superfluous”; “trite”; and “Kim Kardashian” into conversation and impress people, but after a certain number of words, the benefits start to taper off.  Unless you know, you’re writing a 10,000 word essay on “Jane Eyre” and you haven`t been to class all semester; or if you’re a contestant on Jeopardy, and every category is “Wordplay“.

Or this one

Guess I’m going to have to take up a new avenue of self-improvement. Maybe I’ll go for something less ambitious this time… like Juicing. Or Planking. Not sure how much this one will really “improve” me, but I hear its pretty hot right now.  

Question of the Day: What attempts at self-improvement have YOU made recently?? Bonus points if  they failed miserably .

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10 thoughts on “I’ll take: “You Sound like a Tool” for $100, Alex

  1. Oh my goodness this is hilarious! I had a lecturer in law school that used to call us “Wordsmiths”. Think posh english accent and “Woooooowd-smiffs” is what came out. But good on you for trying!

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    • haha- law school profs are a bit of a strange breed, aren’t they? I had a criminal law prof who used to throw down antiquated terms like “Milquetoast” in the middle of overhead slides, with no context whatsoever (FYI: noun ( sometimes initial capital letter ) a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated)… he also had a habit of making all of his notes just a series of rhetorical questions, each one followed by an increasing number of question marks.. i.e; – “Mens Rea?” “Reasonable doubt??” “Subjective vs. Objective Standard???” . That was a fun class.

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  2. Man, the least they could do is teach you useful words! I don’t know why expanding your vocabulary by learning out-dated slang is good for anything, unless you’re writing a novel set in the 1200s or something.
    Your experience with working new words in conversation reminds me of my trying to learn a new language – every time you try out a new word or phrase with native speakers, you’ve just hesitating, waiting for them to laugh at you or stare at you blankly… And no matter what you do, you tend to sound stupid because your vocabulary barely equals that of a two-year-old.
    Anyway. Hope you find a new method of self-improvement!

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    • that’s a great analogy! Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever become “fluent” in the language of out-dated slang words…. but maybe this one is just a steep learning curve :)

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  3. Oh God, no planking, please. Thanks for the words this morning. I just learned a new one the other day– BUPKISS. It means NOTHING and apparently I’m the last person in the world to learn this word.

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  4. I remember in University while studying Journalsim – you always seemed to score higher marks if you used big and confusing adjectives. Indications of a true wordsmith?

    My first internship at a radio station and the editor calls me in, hour 1 day 1. I got a long lecture about how I needed to write “like a normal person”. He simplified everything and put long lines through most of the adjectives I’d sucked from my thumb. Pity.

    Loving the blog!

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    • Thanks for reading, Sam! I remember having a similar experience when I handed in my first legal research memo, which read like it had been beaten to death with a thesaurus…. why oh why do I not learn from my mistakes…

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  5. Where can I sign up for these emails? LOL. I LOVE words, and probably won’t try to use them daily.

    Attempts at self improvement. Hmmm… I became a live-in for a program for youth at risk of homelessness. I needed some humbling. Some real-world something. To see and be thankful for my blessings. It wasn’t a fail though. *hangs head* Sorry.

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