Modifiers

I love words. Adjectives are among the best.

A single word came to mind the other day, and it planted the seed for the rest of this post. One of my friends uses the term “snappy” as a compliment for wardrobe choices that she particularly likes. She’s the only person I know who employs that word, and it’s perfect for her. “Those are snappy shoes,” she’ll say. I haven’t seen her in awhile. I miss her, and not just for her occasional reviews of my fashion sense.

I especially like words that are specific and descriptive. I might have mentioned before that abundant is one of my favorite words of all time. The New York Times, in its inimitable fashion, provides a brief weather description on the top of the front page every morning. Whenever the forecast is for “abundant sunshine,” I have a daily highlight before I even leave the house. To me, abundance is about joy. There’s an exercise that I include in a literacy course that involves building a web around a particular word. The purpose is to instill an appreciation for language in the classroom, and to encourage pre-service teachers to think of themselves as language models for their students. For the past several years, I’ve started the activity with the word “enough.” I talk to my students about the essential meaning of that word, and then we generate a set of categories, synonyms, connotations, and interpretations of the word. It’s an interesting challenge, especially when people are not accustomed to making finely tuned semantic distinctions. What’s the difference between “sufficient” and “plenty?” When does “abundance” turn into “excess?” How do you feel about the word “ample?” Personally, I’m not a fan.

I also like words that are novel or idiosyncratic. “Groovy” is a superb word. I have a friend who regularly coins new terms that make their way through the vernacular of a whole social network. “Butane” is his word for anything that is especially worthy of comment. The Husband and his best friend have a habit of shortening words to single syllables. Making plans to dine at a restaurant involves making a “rez.” Once you arrive for dinner, they are likely to order a favorite cocktail, the New Orleans classic Sazerac, known colloquially to my guys as a “Saz.” While you are eating, they will review the meal in their own jargon. An especially good condiment earns the highest praise, as in: “This sauce really hooks it up.” If you’ve spent any time around the people in this paragraph, you inevitably find yourself drawn into the lingo. You’ll probably also find yourself with a one-syllable, or even a one-letter, nickname. Because in the end, brevity is the soul of wit (and wisdom).

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4 responses to “Modifiers

  1. This blog is T-dub

  2. Indeed modifiers are very useful in expressing certain sentiments. We love using existing words for that purpose, although we sometimes make up new ones. Totally butane!

  3. This is a snappy post and I may just use that word for the remainder of the day to describe all things good. I admit to being a fan of ample – say it slowly! I also have a new fascination with fan-tas-tic. I heard it used at the theatre this week in an exuberant manner with emphasis on each syllable. It was so flattering of the performer that the person was exclaiming about.

  4. I just so enjoy your writing……

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