Don’t know? Make it up!
When I was a kid, I knew that grown-ups used big words with meanings I didn’t understand. There was always the assumption that as I got older, I’d learn these as a matter of course. In the meantime, however, I could always make up definitions based on other words I knew that sounded like the new one. Some of them still stick with me because, in my opinion, they’re better than the real things. For example…
I heard that someone had “matriculated”. This is a rather pompous way of saying that he or she had signed up for college, but I didn’t know that. So, what did it sound like. The main elements seemed to be “may”,”trickle” and “late”. “MAy TRICkle Until it’s too LATE” suggested itself very quickly thereafter. What could trickle until it’s too late? Aha! Matriculate means to bleed internally for a long time without knowing it until you suddenly keel over dead on the spot. I was already writing my epic, never-to-be-published story of an imaginary empire, so this new word fit effortlessly into the growing, convoluted plot.
“Old King Uzz was taking a bath when he banged himself rather sharply on one of the faucets. He looked down and saw only a small bruise on his side, but he didn’t know he had busted his thyrax and it was bleeding into his divercreas. He went about his daily business hunting dinosaurs and reviewing his army in the nude. All the while his blood was running inside, drip, drip, drip. In the evening he went to a huge state dinner in his palace in the city of ‘Poo. After eating he burped up a big bubble of blood and fell dead with his face in a cake. The palace doctor said he must have matriculated for hours.”
I wrote this when I was twelve years old and felt mighty proud of it then. I still do, and I haven’t lost my affinity for puns and other wordplay. Every odd word I hear automatically goes through the rolling and smelting mill of my mind where it’s compared to other words and filed away for future use. People’s names evoke a particularly strong response and, by their mere sound, can evoke responses ranging from euphoria to something akin to having smelled something nasty. This may verge on something called “synesthesia”, but that’s another story.
The whole point of this posting is to encourage people to learn lots of new words. Find out what they really mean, but make something up on the way to the dictionary. It’s lots of fun, and often what you invent is way better than the real thing.