Anu, Dana, and Nero

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February 5, 2018 by libroshombre


Today’s word, pneumooultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, came to my attention from A.Word.A.Day – “the most welcome mass email in cyberspace,” according to the NYTimes. The site’s purveyor, Anu Garg, said the word’s 45 letters long and “the longest word in any English language dictionary. It’s a trophy word – its only job is to serve as the longest word. In day-to-day use, its nine-letter synonym ‘silicosis’ works just as well.” Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis wascoined in 1935 from the Greek “pneumono: lung,” Latin “ultra: extremely,” Greek “micro: small” and “scopic: looking,” Latin “silico: volcanic sand,” and Greek “konis: dust” and “osis: condition.”

Recently some of Garg’s readers commented that his featured words are longer than their definitions, particularly “exeleutherostomize: to speak out freely.” He responded with a week’s worth, including “infundibuliform: funnel-shaped,” and “senectitude: old age.” Some might consider such lingual trivia mere floccinaucinihilipilification (“worthless”), and while learning it doesn’t change the world, it certainly makes things a little more interesting.

According to a recent article about him by Suneetha Balakrishnan, Garg is an American citizen who hails from northern India, where he grew up speaking only Hindi and never saw a library until college. Andwhen he began reading English, “he read deeply; cover to cover, wondering where these words came from, discovering each word has a biography and a story to tell.”

A tech guy, Garg moved to the U.S. in the early 90s to work, but in 1994 while still in graduate school he founded the free site, which includes the A.Word.A.Day emails that over one million receive daily. The Anagram Generator, an amusing time killer, is another interest of Garg’s that’s found at The title of my column blog, HillOfBooks,org, for example, produced recombination doozies like “forego hobo skill,” “Gosh! Ill for books!” and “Oh, blog fool irks!” and many thousands more. One of Garg’s readers inquired “Are there any anagrams for all the letters in the English alphabet?” He replied that “a sentence using all the letters of the alphabet is called a pangram,” and there a many examples, such as “Mr. Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx.”

Much as I admire Garg’s work, I prefer encountering rich new words via literature. In the last two weeks I’ve met “obreptitious: done or obtained by trickery,” by reading Rex Stout’s delightful Nero Wolfe mystery, “Too Many Women.” Charles Dana’s classic “Two Years Before the Mast” reintroduced me to the Spanish term for dungeon, “calaboza,” which was derived from the Louisiana French “calaboose.” My assistant at the Corsicana, Texas library owned a real-live antique calaboose, a jail on wheels made of interwoven iron straps, along with a half-dozen authentic cannon.

            “The Lexicon of Comicana” by Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Baily and founder of the International Museum of Cartoon Art, “is a very light-hearted glossary of comics symbology,” according to one reviewer. “We all accept that comics and cartooning have their own special language that doesn’t really have anything to do with the real world, right? When people are nervous, giantbeads of sweat don’t really go flying off their heads. Pain doesn’t really cause stars or birds to appear. Bombs nearly never resemble a black ball with a fuse on top … But these are all part of the common language of cartoons.” Walker came up with names for all the meaningful icons cartoonists use, such as “fumeti,” Italian for “balloon,” for the word bubbles used to indicate speech. There are subcategories as well. “Maladicta” are a groupof icons used to suggest profanity without actually stooping to it, with “jarms” (small swirls), “nittles” (stars and asterisks), and “quimps” ( quarter moons and stars). When Sarge combines jarms, nittles, and quimps to profanely berate Beetle, the combined effect’s known as a “grawlix.”

Reading comics can be challenging for adult beginners; absorbing icons while reading the text and viewing artwork requires a little mental rewiring. However, dozens of studies prove that absolutely nothing fires up young reluctant readers like well-made, age-appropriate comics and graphic literature. That’s why such books are featured by Guys and Gals Read, the award-winning local program that successfully encourages students to keep reading. And that’s no floccinaucinihilipilification.






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