Tuesday, February 18, 2014
It's true. I always have my eyes open for an unusual word. But not all unusual words. I like a word that I've not heard before but that won't make me sound like a pompous you-know-what if I lock it in my brain and use it on just the right occasion. It has to be a word that pleases me when I say it and hopefully won't be too off-putting to the listener. I don't like to hear pomposity spoken from a podium nor do I like to read a book that seems an attempt to show the reader what a brilliant person the author is. I am sure you all know what I'm talking about. I don't ever want to be that!
Over the years I've picked up a couple of good words to add to my meager vocabulary, and I've even written about them in earlier blogs. The first two that come to mind I think came from one of William Manchester's books: "pusillanimous" which among its meanings is "cowardly" and "Myrmidon" which is best illustrated as people who blindly follow a leader. I don't have many occasions to use either of them, but I have, on a few occasions, been able to decide that they are the most appropriate word for what I want to transmit, and gone ahead to spit them out!
A later word I picked up was "crapulous" which sound exactly like what it means: Given to or characterized by overindulging in food or drink. The word "hangover" comes to mind. When I posted that word on my blog some time back one of my grandsons commented that he personally knew exactly what crapulous was and sadly, how it felt. I told him in my younger days...... and he laughed his head off!
Anyway, here's the word for today. It comes from Sheri Fink's amazing book "Five Days at Memorial Hospital: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital." This is a stunning 500 page book by a writer who is not only a journalist but has a medical degree too. In those 500 pages there is hardly one word that a reader would stumble over, even among the medical stuff. To her credit, Fink is a writer for everyone and for anyone who remembers Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans so hard, this is a book you'll be at ease with, at least in the reading department.
But out of this book, toward the end, I hit a paragraph which absolutely threw me for a loop. The author is reporting on a talk given by one of the hospital's doctors: " 'I should note that, something I didn't know: Helicopters cannot fly at night,' [The doctor] told the audience, years after a colleague at her Houston fund-raiser had gently tried to relieve her of this mumpsimus." (The italics are mine.)
Say what? MUMPSIMUS???
I ran for the dictionary. Well, actually I went to Google and entered "define: mumpsimus" in the search engine and came up with this definition: 1. a view stubbornly held in spite of clear evidence that it's wrong, or 2. A person who holds such a view. Oh, I thought this was such a distinctive word! And of course we all know stubborn people who fit that word exactly, though one really needs to count the possible cost if one uses it in an accusatory manner. ( Example: It is hard to get used to pronouncing a word the proper way, which is a very elementary explanation of events that might bring the word mumpsimus to mind.)
Anyway, I'm working hard on locking that word in the the same brain cell where reside pusillanimous, Myrmidon and crapulous. Whether I ever use it or not, at least it will be there with good company!
And while I'm at it, I might suggest that you treat yourself to a copy of this most interesting and informative book. Aside from anything else, it will get you to thinking about disaster preparedness, and just as importantly end of life issues and ethics. It's a hum-dinger of a book.