Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I PECULATE, YOU PECULATE, HE OR SHE PECULATES


As you all know, I love words. There are a few of us oddballs who will even nose around in a dictionary for fun. We figure one never knows what interesting stuff is in there unless one looks.

I have to admit, though, as the internet has taken to replacing books as a source of information, I have spent less time in the dictionary because words now come to me via http://www.dictionary.com/, a nice website that each day chooses a word to spread before us oddball subscribers. I do find it strange so many really “simple” words are sent, words that I think most everybody would know. But I suppose there are young people coming up behind me who simply don’t have the 56-year acquaintance that I do with words and dictionaries from reading books all those years. Words have always been a “fun” thing for me.

I’ve been retired for nine years, but I still relish a moment on my last job that had to do with words. My position was as the only clerical worker in a local good sized non-profit organization. I had way more on my hands than I could reasonably be expected to handle each day, and I had both a demanding boss and a “high-maintenance” accountant to deal with in a day’s work. The accountant had to supply me with certain information each day for my reports. This fellow and I had a good working relationship and considered ourselves “buddies,” but our temperaments were vastly different. I didn’t rile easily, usually managed to finesse a difficult employee or a sticky problem, and tended to be able to cajole people into producing what I needed. The accountant was a fussbudget and could have driven me nuts if I hadn’t been such a passive-aggressive person. He was single at 50, used to getting his own way, and was so moody I simply considered that he was having PMS periodically. One day he totally refused to supply the numbers that I needed and made a smart crack as I headed out of his office. I turned to him and said in a fairly scornful voice, “Don’t be such a prima donna.” I wheeled around and headed back to my office.

About 15 minutes later he showed up at my door, figures in hand. He didn’t apologize and I didn’t expect him to. I was just glad the ordeal was over and I didn’t have to face an irate boss because I was late with his report. But the accountant stood at my desk, looked a little sheepish, and said, “What is a prima donna?” I snatched good old Webster’s dictionary off the back of my credenza, handed it to him and said, “Two words – Prima Donna. Look under the “P” and bring the book back when you’ve finished. I’ve got to get to the boss’ report.” I swiveled to face the computer and let him figure out what I thought of him at that moment.

Imagine, an adult not knowing what prima donna meant. He does now and I actually doubt if he has ever forgotten. Luckily we remained friends, probably because we were about the only two sane people in the place.

Now you’ll find out the reason I again speak of words. Yesterday I was sent a word via the dictionary website that I had never heard before. Frankly, I thought it was a strangely icky word. The word is “peculate” and it is a verb. When I read the meaning (to steal money or goods entrusted to one; or to embezzle) I felt as if the wrong definition had been given to that word. I looked at its etiology (where the origin of the word is shown on the website) and found it to be “from Latin peculatus/peculari – to embezzle.” Then there was also another entry – “from peculum ‘private property.’” Ah HAH! Now that sounded more like what peculate should be about.

My own personal feeling about Latin in general is that whatever is being said probably has to do with either religion or anatomy. Now I know that isn’t true, but I have to tell you that especially “peculum” comes into my mind’s eye (or more accurately my mind’s ear) as something having to do with one’s anatomy. And peculatus is way too close to “flatus” for me to think of embezzling; no, it too should have something to do with anatomy, though I’m not sure which part.

I think that anyone who uses that word in the manner of the illustration that accompanied the word on the Dictionary page “Not surprisingly, they use their positions to demand bribes and peculate public funds” needs to gear down a little bit so everyone will know what is happening to those funds. With my feeling about that word, I think probably no one would want to touch the public funds after they were peculated on. There is definitely no way at all that I can ever use “peculate” if I meant “embezzle” because I’d probably have to titter while I was saying it (and think anatomical thoughts at the same time.)

1 comment:

BKR said...

I laughed, I cried. I'm married to a sesquipedalian.