Okay, so we’re in my personal celebration of vocabulary. Anyone ever flip through the dictionary just to find words that they don’t know or that sound weird? I do. I have. I thought I could subscribe to m-w.com or dictionary.com’s word of the day emails to get my fix. Occasionally, it worked, but I found that I usually knew what most of the words they sent meant, so after a while it seemed like a useless exercise.

Now, if I had the guts at the evil day job to use the word of the day like the Secret Word on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, that would have improved the entertainment value enormously. For those of you who aren’t familiar – each episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse had a secret word. When anyone said the word, you were supposed to scream real loud. Now, I wasn’t a child when Pee-Wee’s Playhouse aired, but I was young enough to see the amusement value in it. And quite frankly, I’ve been tempted to choose my own Secret Word at work, for certain types of business jargon. Probably the constant screaming would get me committed or fired, but it’s fun to imagine!

Now, as I’ve said, I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary. Regardless, I’ll still run across a few words in books that I have to look up, but most times, I can figure it out from context. If you’re really interested in stretching your vocabulary muscles, though, I have two recommendations.

First, The African Poison Murders by Elspeth Huxley. It might take some effort to find a copy, but it is well worth it for the learning experience. The book is very similar in nature and style to an Agatha Christie mystery, but it’s stuffed to the gills with words I’VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE. Stunning. I needed a dictionary at hand to actually make it through the book because there were words I couldn’t even figure out what they meant from context. I’d give you some examples, but I haven’t finished unpacking from my recent move (can I still call eight months ago a recent move?) and I can’t lay hands on the book.

[openbook booknumber=”9780345350800″ templatenumber=”2″]Another option is just about anything by H.P. Lovecraft. Fair warning – he wrote horror (short stories, mostly), and even with dictionary at hand, it’s pretty creepy. Here are a couple of examples. From The Shunned House – rugose. Now, there’s a word I don’t have the definition for on the tip of my tongue. How about aegipan, from the Horror at Red Hook? Like Elspeth Huxley, Lovecraft was writing in the early 1900’s, so some of the terminology has just fallen out of usage. But Batman fans will be familiar with one of Lovecraft’s enduring contributions. The fictional town of Arkham was where most of Lovecraft’s weirdness was set, and Batman’s greatest foes are sent to Arkham asylum (presumably in honour!).

If you want something a little lighter, there’s always The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams. I have another post where I, uh, expose myself as a geeky Douglas Adams fan girl, so I won’t bore you with that again. But The Meaning of Liff is a whole book of Douglas Adams taking street and place names, and reassigning them meanings… because there’s a lot of situations out there that don’t have words to describe them. Here are just a few examples:

Bodmin – the irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay for a bill together after a meal.
Duntish – mentally incapacitated by a severe hangover.
Goadby Marwood – someone who stops John Cleese on the street and demands that he does a funny walk. (If you haven’t watched Monty Python, you may not get the reference. If you haven’t watched Monty Python – WHY NOT?!?!)

More on making up words in the next post!