My favorite word in the English language is facetious.
I like it for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it can often be accurately used to describe me. Second, it uses all five vowels in alphabetical order, so it’s got random trivia value. Third, because it was a word that taught me how to use the dictionary.
Remember when you were a kid, and people said you could use the dictionary to learn how to spell words that you didn’t know how to spell? When I was about seven or eight that was the most mind-bendy concept ever. How can you look up words in the dictionary if you didn’t know how to spell them already?
Kids today, with their autocorrect and spell check and Google “did you mean”, and that whole dictionary.com thing…. they barely know what the huge heavy thin-papered books are that are full of words except as reused paper in Etsy necklaces.
When I was about eight, my mom told me not to be so facetious.
Being a drinker of words, I asked “What does that mean?”
Mom said “Look it up.”
I grabbed her black college dictionary off the shelf next to North American Wildlife – these were the shelves of key reference materials in my childhood. I looked at it and then back at my mom. “How do you spell it?”
“Figure it out. Where should you start?”
I flipped it open to Fs, and skimmed the Fas- selections. “What other letters could sound like S?” mom asked me. So then I looked at the Fac- section. I know that this is a mundane, silly memory. I know that we all had that a-ha moment when we learned we could reverse-engineer sounding out new words to be able to look them up in the dictionary. Even if we didn’t know how to spell them!
This moment – however mundane – is firmly cemented in my mind. I remember it clearly, I remember reading the definition of facetious and giggling, even though I knew it meant my mom thought I was joking when I should be a little more serious. I remember finding the word on the page. This was a heady draught for an eight-year-old word-drinker. I never forgot it.
What are your favorite words? Do you have any words you dislike?