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Tag Archive: words

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.

Mar 12

Playing Scrabble exercises the brain if you know how to play

“Unless you know how to use it, a Scrabble game is just a boxful of junk.”–The Billion Dollar Brain (1966) by Len Deighton.

I recently started playing Scrabble with Julie, an old high school friend, when she invited me to join her in a game online. Sounded like fun.

However, I had a second reason for attempting this exercise in mental gymnastics: stave off cognitive impairment and memory loss.

Yes indeed, aging experts are currently advising baby boomers that we can enhance our brain cells (even if we lost some already) by doing something outside our comfort zone.

Something like playing Scrabble. And, experts say trying such a difficult task may help.

For example, if you brush your teeth with your right hand, switch to your left, or if crossword puzzles are easy for you, try Scrabble.

Therefore and with great enthusiasm, I attacked the first game somehow believing that Scrabble was the uncomplicated and undemanding game of my youth. I was just out of practice. I would be fine.

It did not take long; however, before I became as intense and frustrated over Scrabble as were cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes when they fussed over a match. Their cartoon-strip conversation went like this.

Calvin: Ha! I’ve got a great word and it’s on a double word score box!
Hobbes: ZQFMGB isn’t a word! It doesn’t even have a vowel!
Calvin: It is so a word! It’s a worm found in New Guinea! Everyone knows that.
Hobbes: I’m looking it up.
Calvin: You do, and I’ll look up that 12-letter word you played with all the Xs and Js!
Hobbes: What’s your score for ZQFMGB?
Calvin: 957.

Truth is, in online Scrabble the computer tells you immediately if your word is valid or not; and thus, fussing over an allowed word never happens. Besides, Julie and I would not quarrel over acceptable words, we are too good of friends.

We did have the following exchange though.

Kay (suddenly aware that she was not good at the game and making an excuse): You are disgustingly good at this, Julie. I am not sure of the rules, so I guess I had better get around to reading them.

Julie (trying to encourage Kay): It is all about the 2-letter words that allow you to stack. Don’t despair; you’ll catch on fast. Let the dictionary be your BFF (best friend forever).

Kay: I am so far behind I think I am first. I just played a wimpy word, but at least I am exercising my brain.

Julie: I’ve had some good combos; just luck.

Kay (thinking to herself): Luck, my foot. This girl is good.

As Luca Trevisan, professor of computer science, once said, “Usually, when one tries to understand something very complex, there is a first phase when one learns a lot, has no idea of the vastness of the subject, and feels like he is quickly grasping it. Then one begins to appreciate its complexity, and feels completely lost.”

Just as in Scrabble.

Perhaps instead of struggling at Scrabble, I will try brushing my teeth with my non-dominant hand and hope that is good enough exercise for this aging brain.

Anyone know if unscrabbled is a valid word?

Nov 19

Grandparents may need a primer in Harry Potter-speak!

You might think that the Harry Potter craze has died down, but think again, grandparents. The next installment of the movie sequence is here just in time for Christmas, and the final book in the series of seven is being written as we speak.

Time to learn the Potter language if you haven’t already.

From the moment the ink dried on the first Potter book, I “jumped on the bandwagon” and became an adoring fan of J.K. Rowling and her magical story of young Harry Potter and his battle between good versus evil.

Not so fast you say.

Some folks think it’s the other way around, and that evil lurks in the pages of these immense and robust novels.

Au contraire!

I submit there are lots of reasons to the contrary, but before I bore you with those and rave about the joys of reading Harry Potter books, I had better get such an objection addressed up front.

After all, some parents and grandparents may need some assurance that it’s OK to read these books.  So, I set out to find those answers for the skeptical.

Certainly, one can find evil in the Rowling books, but, through creativity, trust, faith, and sheer determination, Harry Potter overcomes the demons that beset him. What better a story is there anywhere for young minds to “sop up”, as Rowling might say.

Helping Harry with his noble quest is his amazing arsenal of magical tools and gadgets. We Boomers know this is not unlike the technology we have today that appears to many of us to be pure magic and totally incomprehensible, ie.remotes, computers, satellites, cell phones, and GPS.

Then, your next question that may come to mind is a natural one.

Is Harry careful to use his magic (technology) for good, or can he be corrupted by it instead and lured to the “dark side”, or in wizard-speak, to “the one-who-must-not-be named?”

Your young readers may need some explanation, Boomers, as to why Harry must be careful what he does with his magic. Our young, as we well know, must be just as careful with the power of the technology at their disposal, such as internet and cell phones!

Need I explain further?

Anyone who reads Potter books knows that wizards are not allowed to perform magic in front of “Muggles” (ordinary people with no magical skill or powers).  Using magic (or, if you will, technology) unwisely can cause irreparable damage to others, and Harry finds that out, quite soon in his young wizarding life.

A wonderful book, The Science of Harry Potter, addresses the magic of Harry Potter’s world and compares it to the technology of ours. Author, Roger Highfield, writes an insightful guide to the Harry Potter books by showing us a link between Potter’s magic and science. Highfield explains that what we find strange and magical in the Potter books can actually be explained by science.

I enjoy what Highfield says when he writes, “I love the Harry Potter books, but maybe not for all the same reasons that you do. For me enchantment, spell, curse, and other act of sorcery in J. K. Rowling’s wonderful creation seems to throw down a challenge to modern science…Surely  brain scientists would reject the idea of a hat that can read thoughts? Beans of any and every imaginable flavor? Sounds unlikely, as do flying broomsticks, the candles that hover in Hogwarts (school of wizardry and witchcraft), and the Weasley’s gravity-defying Ford… Surely magic of this sort can’t be reconciled with the rational laws of science?”

Or can it? Author Highfield does just that, in my humble opinion, and, therefore, I highly recommend his book to you in order to satisfy your own curiosity.

One of my great concerns, as I grow older, is how younger generations have lost the habit of reading for pleasure, and thus, do not experience its joys.

Perhaps, nothing else has gone so far to correct that problem as has the mysterious and thrilling J. K. Rowling novels. I, personally, have witnessed several young people discover how to read for fun, just by becoming absorbed in Harry Potter novels.

James F. Sennett, a professor at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College and Seminary, wrote an interesting piece that goes a long way, in my mind, toward putting any concerns about the Potter books to rest.  Sennett wrote a piece for the Christian Standard entitled, “Thank God for Harry Potter.”

He discussed how Harry and his friends confront many of the same problems that youth today face, such as bullies, cheating, homework, and the angst of developing adolescence.  Sennett tells us that even though the characters age throughout the books, the clear message of morality and the exceptional literary quality of the books does not change. Sennett says, “…the books are exciting, educational, wholesome, and just plain fun. And none of these virtues can be taken for granted in today’s world or today’s church.”

Get ready, then, for more Harry Potter, controversial as it may be, because the Potter story is far from over.

 One thing is certain; J. K. Rowling gets us reading, if for nothing else than to keep up with the kiddos, and as Mark Twain once observed, “Those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t.”

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