Monday, 2 April 2018

One for the Word Nerds...

I read something the other day that made me think. It was one of those inspirational/philosophical memes that pop up on Facebook all the time. Usually I scroll past like the virtual wallpaper they are, but I remembered this one. Forgive the paraphrasing but it went something like, 
'Don't tease someone for pronouncing a word incorrectly. That just means they read it and didn't hear it.'
I'm not going to pretend this was some mind-blowing, earth-shattering truth that made me see everything in a whole new light. It wasn't and it didn't. It just made me think for a minute. 

There are a few words in my head that make me pause before I say them out loud. I know what they mean but I'm entirely sure how they're said. Nomenclature. That's one. I've literally never said it aloud, but I have read it.* I would go as far as to say I would avoid having to use it so I don't make a show of myself. (This is not a hardship, by the way. It doesn't tend to crop up over a beer with friends.) Likewise the term 'GIF' is something I stumble over. It was always GIF with a hard G. And then out of the blue, the inventor of the damn thing said it was pronounced JIF. But not everyone got the memo. Or maybe people just decided that the inventor was wrong. I hear GIF far more than JIF. But I also know that it annoys me when people get my name wrong so I don't want to insult the GIF inventor by getting the name of his creation wrong. When I have to use it in a conversation, I tend to say, 'Did you see that funny GIF/JIF whatever it's called, on Facebook yesterday?' See what I did there? 'GIF/JIF whatever it's called', is how I pronounce GIF these days. Every single time.

And then there are words that I know how to pronounce but I don't have a clear dictionary definition of their meaning. This is definitely a by-product of reading books. When you have a feeling of a word rather than a clear understanding of when it should be used. When you know of a specific character or scene where you saw it used but you can't apply it to any other situation out of that context.

One of my favourite words falls into that category. Languid. Yeah, I know. Languid. It's a word I tend not to use because I don't have a clear definition, but it's a word I really like from its sound. I like words that have that specific U sound. (English Language students will have all sorts of technical explanations for what I mean.) Words like mellifluous, superfluous, fortuitous eloquent, and yes...languid. It sounds nice to hear and feels nice to say. Then there's the vague understanding I have of it. I think it means elongated, stretched out, drawn out and relaxed. I see it as a good word. Long summer days spent languidly under blue skies. Or something. I remember it being used in The Great Gatsby to describe someone. I can't remember who but it's definitely in there. 

My non-grasp of languid peaked the other day. I had been given the DVD of Call Me By Your Name for Christmas by my brother** and I finally watched it last week. Aside from the story of young love, the film was a sensual feast, depicting a whole summer of free time, balmy evenings and good weather, with nothing else to do except shag your parent's house guest. (It's much more beautiful than that in reality. I've done it no justice there, whatsoever. Honestly, it's gorgeous.) As I watched, the word languid screamed out at me. Constantly. So much so that I thought it was high time to acquaint myself with the correct definition of the word. So I did.
'Having or showing a disinclination for physical exertion or effort.'
Now the thing is, Call Me By Your Name is chock-full of physical activity. (I'm not even trying to make a rude joke there either.) There's swimming, cycling and dancing from the start. Clearly I've had the wrong end of the stick when it comes to what languid means. Also, I think that definition makes it sound like it's a negative thing to be. The 'dis' of 'disinclination' sounds like behaving in a languid manner is bad. And that's a real shame because that definition pretty much sums up my entire personality. Especially on a Sunday. Hey ho. I'll embrace my languidity even if it's bad form or not the done thing. I'll embrace it on a weekend when I've ditched the shower in favour of whatever Netflix series I'm currently binging. I'll embrace it as much as my apathetic, lazy personality allows.

Meanwhile, inspired by Call Me By Your Name, I've been planning on dusting off the garden chairs and being languid outside. When it's a touch warmer, I'll honour the film by drinking wine and eating fruit by the back door. I'll have no bother eschewing the physical exertion that kept cropping up on screen, and instead I'll sit outside and ponder life as the sun sets. I'll pretend I'm in rural Italy, instead of just off the motorway on an A-road in Merseyside. I'll make it my mission to ensure that the world knows what languid means and sees it in all it's chilled-out, laid-back, horizontal disinclination of effort. 

But for now the Easter weekend is virtually over. The four-day holiday ends tomorrow and it's time to get back into the usual routine. No more time-wasting on linguistic streams of consciousness like this. Ooh. Linguistic! Another word with the U sound I like.

Have a lovely week, folks.

* Actually I have said it aloud. A mate once asked me how it was pronounced and I realised I didn't know. He had a colleague that said it one way and my mate said it another. I am still none the wiser.

** My brother got me Call Me By Your Name  - I think - because he knows how much I love an intense connection between two characters, and how the discovery of a soul mate can be the most gripping of narratives. See Before Sunrise, or Chapter 17 of Carry the Beautiful which is my own homage to the concept.

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