Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cool words with diminished use value

(1) Demoniac.
In my youth, sitting in the pews of a rural Southern Baptist Church, I would hear a sermon now and again that took the story of the Gadarene Demoniac as its point of departure. I've always kind of liked words whose accent changes when suffixes are added (more of those to come). I remember always loving to hear a preacher say that word. Especially a southern preacher. Da-MOAN-ee-ac. I came across it the other day, and had the startle of recognition that comes when you encounter something formerly familiar that you haven't thought about for a long time. Demoniac.

(2) Onomatopoetic.
Of course, onomatopoeia is a pretty cool word all by itself, and I don't get to use it nearly enough these days. We don't seem to talk about onomatopoeia in student compositions much. But I remember hearing a professor say "onomatopoetic" when I was an undergraduate, and I remember loving it. It's like "poetic," but with "onomatopeoia" attached. How cool is that? But, yeah, I can't remember the last time I had occasion to use it.

(3) Antediluvian.
Actually, I like all ante- words: antebellum, anteroom. Who would have thought that "ante," which seems so negative, really just means before? But antediluvian is especially cool because "deluge" gets transmogrified into "diluv." And it's also Biblical. This one maybe comes up more than the others I list here. But not really that often.

(4) Penultimate.
When studying poetry, I often heard my professors refer to the "penultimate" line. At first, I didn't know what they meant, but figured it out soon enough. How much lovelier it is to say "penultimate" rather than "next to last." How exciting to realize "ultimate" simply means "last." Alas. I have little reason to ask my students to take a look at the penultimate--what? Paragraph? Sentence? No, I never say it. But it's a word I remember treasuring. It seemed like secret poet code.

(5) Bildungsroman.
Another word from my undergraduate literary education. It's German, you know? And yet, just as I had it mastered--both its pronunciation and meaning--I had little use for it. Even in my first graduate school incarnation, I didn't do much with novels. And who talks about bildungsroman in rhet/comp? Though maybe we should--it seems like the idea of growth through education is fairly unquestioned assumption in the field.


gvcarter said...

The word "demoniac" came up the other day when I was talking about electracy in relation to "mnemonics."

"What do you mean that electracy shares something with demoniacs?"

What can I say? In inviting students to pay close associative attention to language... onomatopoeia ... one invites all mannerist of associations.

Anyway, ya, I gotta admit that "Bildungsroman" reminds me of Hegel and Faust II.


miscellanneous said...

ooh! I learned "penultimate" in my first day of Greek class in college. The professor was round, portly, and mostly bald, but he had a beard whose ends he twirled in his fingers, so that it ended over his many-holed cardigan in many little curly points. There were only women in the class, and he enjoyed talking about the manliness of ancient Greek and ancient Greece, translating Greek terms into phrases like "nether sphincter" and "reamed with a radish" -- and then he would talk about how the radishes in ancient Greece were not our little round ones.

And this was at 8am.

Rebecca Moore said...

Confession: I use "penultimate." Whilst talking with my students. Sometimes.

Chad Simpson said...

For a long time I thought penultimate meant "most awesome," or, you know, "totally ultimate."

Like, "Last night was the penultimate."

I've seen students use it in this manner in papers, too. The same way I once wrote about "old wise tales" in my Comp 101 class.

Mike said...

I love Latin. So I'm a big geek not only for "penultimate," which yes I confess I've said in class and had students raise their hands and ask about That Word You Said, but also the twist variation your list hinted at: "antepenultimate."

O yes.

Donna said...

Who knew so many of you out there also love penultimate and even, at times, SAY IT! And, Mike--whoa. Antepenultimate. I'm gonna start saying that. Even if just to the cats.

Mike said...

On their excellent metal/thrash 1989 album "Best Wishes," which basically consists of love songs to Krishna (!), the Cro-Mags have a song called "Crush the Demoniac." Unfortunately, the words "penultimate" and "antediluvian" make no appearance in the song's lyrics.

'Cause that would so rock.

Donna said...

The weird thing about this latest demoniac hearing is that I was just watching _Fierce Grace_, about Ram Dass after a stroke, this weekend. And there was much chanting of Krishna's name. I was all amazed at the synchronicity, commenting to C. how odd that Ram Dass "was stroked" (as he puts it) in the very month and year that my mother, who has never taken LSD or chanted a Hindu god's name, had a stroke. And now it all comes back around, in this comment. Demoniacs. Krishna. The strands of my life are more interconnected than I could dream.


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