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Tag Archive: William Shatner

Apr 23

Using colorful words and mixing up others can be hilarious

One of the peccadilloes of aging is that we begin to pepper our language with curious and colorful words; another is that we mix up our words and often get our “tang all tonguled-up.”

The quiddity of this phenomenon is that the listener generally understands each word uttered or at least the “gist” of them, and comprehends the speaker’s intention, even without knowing the word’s exact meaning.

For example, the other night my husband yawned and said, “I have to go to bed before I get “pumpkinized.” Meaning, he was getting tired and needed to go to bed before he “turned into a pumpkin.”

Although his colorful speech could be called an outré (unconventional or eccentric) remark, I still got it just fine.

Recently, on the morning Fox and Friends television show, Marie Osmond commented, “If life gives you lemonade, make lemons.” Of course, she meant to say that phrase the other way around, but I understood her just the same.

My cousin who is a septuagenarian (and that is an important factor later in this story) is apt to say, “The sky is ominous today and portends a burgeoning storm with susurrus winds.”

Her vocabulary of uncommon words is truly astonishing. I never ask their meaning, but occasionally, I admit that I do indeed run for a dictionary when she speaks. Actually, I am envious of her ability to spout uncommon words with such fluidity and ease.

Another example. Last night on the television show Boston Legal, William Shatner’s aging character pontificated that he could have a jury in the palm of his lap any time he wanted by using his gift of soaring and emotional rhetoric.

“Don’t you mean to say hand,” a young colleague snarked back.

Good news readers. There is a plausible explanation why, as we age, we mix up words and a very good reason why we may verbalize a rare word from time to time.

I can only say, “Thank goodness there is a reason!” I am tired of explaining why I say synonym when I mean to say that brown spicy substance you may know as cinnamon.

I spew out spoonerisms (words and phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped) with the best of them:

Go and shake a tower, when I mean, go take a shower.
You had better get movin’ at the lead of spite, meaning at the speed of light.
That is a lack of pies if I ever heard one, meaning a pack of lies.

However, I did promise to explain why there is a good reason for colorful language misuse and why a septuagenarian (a 70’s something) is important to this story.

Dr. Gitit Kave, a clinical neuro-psychologist from the Herczeg Institute of Aging, conducted a study on the affects of aging on language and says there is a significant decrease in word retrieval abilities after the age of 70.

According to Dr. Kave, “As we grow older, we acquire more words and our vocabulary grows…Paradoxically, the older you are, the richer your vocabulary and yet the harder it is for you to produce a specific word. But because their passive vocabulary is larger and they know many infrequent words, older people may use those rare ones instead (of retrieving a more common word)….the older you get, the more you tend to pick rare words, which is surprising.”

I don’t know about that explanation. It really doesn’t tease my ears. You knew I meant to say “ease by tears”, didn’t you?

Or, was it “ease my fears,” I meant to say?

I have no earthly idea.