The Hobart

Winning Words

by Amanda Double
Winning Words

“There is great power in the knowing of a word. The controversial hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that language shapes our perception of reality…Each generation receives language, uses and changes it, and teaches it to the next gen­eration, which builds on it anew.”

This quote is from the preamble to a fun new book a thoughtful friend gave me recently: Grandiloquent words: a pictoric lexicon of ostrobogulous locu­tions, by Jason Travis Ott (Countryman Press, 2023).

Ott presents his case that grandiose, pompous or antiquated (“grandiloquent”) words, far from having no place in modern society, are needed to thrill us with their old-style magic and often still strangely-relatable meanings: “The more words you know, the more tools you have to articulate accurately the world, the people around you, your experiences, and the way you feel.” In his book he includes such delightful words as “scurryfunge” (defined as “to rush around the house in a mad cleaning spree after learning that a visitor is coming” – I can certainly relate), “coddiwomple” (“to travel with a sense of purpose toward a vague destination as yet unknown”), and the verb “deliciate “ (“to indulge or delight in something enjoya­ble”). Look, far be it from me to want to be “lexiphanic” (“linguistically bombas­tic, inflated, pretentious, or turgid”), or indeed an “ultracrepidarian” (“a know-it-all who gives opinions on topics beyond one’s knowledge”), but I will admit I am a passionate “lexicomane” (”a person who loves dictionaries”).

Ott (also creator of a website, “Grandiloquent Word of the Day”) has provided a definition for each of these words, along with its ancient deriva­tion and its use in a sentence from an historical literary work, accompanied by a humorous drawing or engraving.

And to be honest, some of these arcane words may seem a little silly and over-the-top, and you wouldn’t want to use them too often in normal conversation if you wanted to retain your friends. But then I sometimes think that about some of the current officially-designated “Words of the Year” from our major dictionary centres as well. For example, Oxford selected as their Word of the Year for 2023 the term “rizz”- that is, the short­ened form of “charisma”. Defined as “pertaining to someone’s ability to attract another person through style, charm, or attractiveness, this term is from the middle part of the word ‘charisma’, which is an unusual word formation pattern.”

According to Oxford, “use of the word as recorded in our corpus has increased dramatically in 2023” – with an apparent peak in June 2023 when English actor Tom Holland declared in an interview that he had “no rizz whatsoever”.

The Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2023 is also a shortened version of a well-known existing phrase: “cozzie livs” – a humorous colloquial play on “cost of living”. Says the Macquarie Committee: “Although cozzie livs was coined in the UK, it has resonated soundly with Australians, with its -ie suffix and its clipped formation…And what could be a more Australian approach to a major social and economic problem than to treat it with a bit of humour and informality?”

Well, I appreciate a cute contraction as well as the next person, but on this occasion I have to say that no-one I know in Hobart has ever used either of these shortened forms – except to express faint bewilderment upon their announcement as Words of the Year. I realise that by admitting this I’m revealing that I’m seriously uncool, not keeping up with the Zeitgeist. Or just moving in the wrong circles. Plus, well, I should really refer myself back to the preamble quote at the head of this page: “Each generation receives language, uses and changes it, and teaches it to the next generation, which builds on it anew.”

This has also prompted in me a sudden flashback to the classic scene in the 1987 cult comedy/fantasy film The Princess Bride, where the Vizzini character says it’s “inconceivable” that the pirate didn’t fall, and Inigo Montoya replies (in an oddly-lovable fake accent): “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Luckily, there is one winning Word of the Year for 2023 that I CAN really relate to: the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s 2023 Word of the Year, “Matildas”. To quote the Centre: “The soaring popularity of the Australian women’s soccer team after their semi-fi­nal run at this year’s Women’s FIFA World Cup has seen experts at The Australian National University (ANU) pick Matilda as their Word of the Year for 2023. The team name (Matildas, or Tillies for short) and singular form (Matilda) were everywhere as Matildas mania swept the country, with Australians transfixed by every minute of play.”

“Matilda” was one of the names used for a swag in Australia from the 1880s (made famous in our beloved alternative anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”). Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, Dr Amanda Laugesen, has noted that “it’s only since the mid-1990s that the women’s soccer team has been called the Matildas, but after this year’s World Cup the word has once again cemented itself in the Australian lexicon.” The name is of Old Germanic origin, apparently meaning “mighty in battle” – and the mighty Matildas brought us together and inspired us all right when we needed it most. A fitting choice indeed for an Australian Word of the Year.

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May 2024

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