Tag Archives: vocabulary

Vocabulary and the Olympics

Last month, I made a vow to counter the vitriol and ignorance that spew forth from the American president’s mouth and Twitter account by incorporating better vocabulary into my daily life. As the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, end and the athletes trickle back to Canada and elsewhere, what better way to highlight their achievements than with words other than “great”?

Enjoy my abbreviated Olympic dictionary, a verbal tribute to the 2018 Winter Games, courtesy of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Zenith, n., the highest or culminating point in prosperity, power, etc. Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reached the zenith of their Olympic careers in Pyeongchang, winning gold medals in both ice dancing and team skating.

Turbulent, adj., varying irregularly, causing disturbance. The turbulent winds played havoc with some of the ski and snowboard events, upsetting some of the athletes and making it impossible to predict winners.

Effervescent, adj., lively, energetic and vivacious. Who could fail to enjoy the effervescent performance of the only North Koreans to genuinely qualify for the Olympics, pairs skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik? They won the hearts of the crowd on hand, as well as viewers worldwide.

Tenacious, adj., persistent, stubborn.

Resilient, adj., readily recovering from shock, depression

The Canadian men’s hockey team was tenacious and resilient after its shocking loss to Germany, rebounding to proudly win a bronze medal.

Trailblazer, n., pioneer, innovator. Women’s luger Alex Gough won Canada’s first-ever Olympic medal in her sport, a bronze, after finishing fourth twice at Sochi in 2014.

Indomitable, adj., can’t be subdued, unyielding, stubbornly persistent. Snowboarder Mark McMorris of Canada demonstrated his indomitable spirit by competing at the Olympics less than a year after a near-fatal boarding accident, earning a bronze medal and worldwide admiration.

Affable, adj., friendly, good-natured. The South Korean people were affable, welcoming hosts to athletes and spectators alike.

Actually, as an Olympics junkie, I could go on and on and on … but in the interest of brevity, I won’t. Suffice it to say that there are many other words to describe the recent Olympics, such as joyous, inclusive and heartwarming. What a treat!

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Refusing the Trump card

Six years ago, the Korean pop song, Gangnam Style, took the world by storm, bringing smiles to faces everywhere with its catchy beat and silly dance. Today, by contrast, the global community has been invaded by Trump style, discourse characterized by anger, insult and demeaning language.

People who value decency cringe every time the American president issues another tweet, insulted by his crude, disparaging language, even though they may not the targets of his vitriol. Each time they think his insults can’t get much worse, he proves that it is possible.

When Mr. Trump recently referred to the “___hole countries in Africa” something inside me snapped. Could those words possibly be coming from the mouth of the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the Western world? Although many politicians are disappointing, we still hope for – and expect — better. With such bigotry and hatred displayed openly, people in democratic countries worldwide are experiencing a massive betrayal at the hands of the America’s leader.

As a writer, I view language as a tool for growth, not destruction. Discourse among leaders may not be cordial at all times, but it is generally civil. I hold the leader of any nation’s highest office to a high standard; he/she should speak with dignity, rather than sounding like a mean, angry child calling names on a playground. After all, he/she is a role model, whether or not he/she wants to wear that mantle.

With three years still to unfold in Mr. Trump’s term, it’s difficult not to wonder what offensive language will spew forth next. There’s not much we can do, since he doesn’t take criticism kindly, even from his fellow Americans. What chance does a Canadian stand?

However, we can fight back in small ways. Personally, I plan to promote dignified language by expanding my vocabulary – and yours, perhaps. The more words we have in our arsenals, the less need there is to resort to curses and demeaning language.

In Hag-Seed, renowned author Margaret Atwood‘s recent retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the protagonist refuses to let his actors curse, unless they use insults from Shakespeare. Now, there’s a creative use of language!

As my battle begins, let’s look at the word NADIR. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the lowest point in one’s fortunes; a time of deep despair.” It seems quite appropriate in talking about the state of discourse in American politics.

Let’s all fight ignorance and hatred with the tools that suit us best. Stay tuned for more blog posts exploring words that relate to the news of the day.

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Expletive Deleted

Sitting on the subway or walking down the street, I often feel like cringing as I overhear nearby conversations where every other word seems to be “f*#!.”

The tight rein on polite language of decades past has evaporated. Words that once meant a mouth washed out with soap are now part of the everyday vocabulary. I’ve even found myself weakening when I’m upset, but I’m not proud of it. For the New Year, I’m aiming to use more interesting ways of expressing myself.

To find other options, I’ll simply travel back in time to 19th century Britain, where words were colourful without being quite so off colour. The richness of that period’s language never fails to make me smile.

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For instance, while singer Carly Simon wouldn’t have had a hit if her song, You’re So Vain, had been titled, You’re a Coxcomb, she would certainly have sent people scrambling for their dictionaries. Conceited or vain is the definition, although the term once meant fool, because the fools (jesters) in the royal retinue wore caps adorned with bells and topped with a piece of red cloth shaped like a cock’s (rooster’s) comb.

Often, said coxcombs speak nothing but fustian — pretentious, pompous language. We’ve all certainly come across people in positions of power who hold forth as if every word is a pearl of wisdom, when we privately consider their words nothing but faradiddles (lies).

One of my personal favourites from the 1800s is rapscallion, which translates to rascal, scamp or rogue. Let it trip off your tongue and enjoy the sound.

So, time travel it is. The next time I’m in high dudgeon (angry) about something, don’t be surprised if I eschew an expletive in favour of balderdash (nonsense). It has a satisfying ring to it as we ring in the New Year.

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Technology Has the Last Word … or Two

Language, as I have noted before, is fluid and ever-changing. Nothing is surer proof of its fluidity than the inclusion of many media and social media terms in the online version of that august tome, the Oxford English Dictionary. Fitting, I suppose, that these words are being featured in the free online OED.

The editors of the OED don’t take new entries lightly. As the OED blog notes, “Each month, Oxford Dictionaries collects examples of around 150 million words in use from sources around the world, and adds these to the Oxford Corpus. The editors use this database to track and verify new and emerging word trends.” Their research leads to more than 1,000 new inclusions annually.

Included among recent entries are terms such as listicle, an online article in the form of a bulleted list, and live-tweeting, an activity undoubtedly common among Pan Am Games spectators – posting comments about an event on Twitter while the event is ongoing. In fact, those who hate-watch television shows can make the most of the experience by live-tweeting about them.

Perhaps you’ve already read about these entries – after all, in our hyperconnected world, this information in undoubtedly everywhere.

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I Swear — Word(s) of Wisdom

It’s April Fool’s Day, and CBC radio’s morning program raised the ire of many listeners with a (false) story about a petition to prohibit cursing in a local park. Scores of readers tweeted their outrage before the joke was revealed, citing their belief in free speech in public places.

I, too, strongly believe in free speech, but the current fashion for casual cursing disturbs me. I am no saint – I spent a few years working for the Navy and did, indeed, learn to curse like a sailor – but I maintain that conversation should be more than a string of F#*! and S*#!  strung together.

Call me a prude, but there’s nothing enjoyable about walking to the subway behind someone telling a friend how much the bleeping bleep bleeped him off. It just sounds uncouth and disgusting.

Curses lose their power if they are overused, so it’s time to substitute other exclamatory words and phrases for modern profanity. Let’s deprogram ourselves, broaden our vocabularies and use some creativity in heated moments.

Why not turn to Shakespeare for a lesson or two? Here are a few of his choice insults that will not only sound much classier than your average expletive, but will impress your friends and neighbours with their uniqueness:

  • “Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens.” (As You Like It)
  • “Scurvy, old, filthy, scurry lord.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • “Out, you mad headed ape.” (Henry IV, Part I)
  • “Base dunghill villain.”(Henry IV, Part II)
  • “How foul and loathsome is thine image.” (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • “Poisonous bunch backed toad.” (Richard III)

For a larger selection, visit http://www.insults.net/html/shakespeare/

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Word(s) of Wisdom, March 2, 2015

In English, spelling can be a tricky business for native speakers, let alone for those whose first language is something other than English. I was reminded of such spelling challenges this weekend when a friend of mine, who was born abroad, told me she had enjoyed the delicious “Sheppard’s” (i.e., Shepherd’s) pie that I had served for supper.

Shepherd’s pie combines shredded or ground meat with a potato crust. It apparently dates back to Britain in the 1700s, when potatoes were introduced as common table fare, and it was a dish that allowed cooks to use up their leftover meat creatively. When made with lamb, it is called shepherd’s pie, because grazing sheep were plentiful in the north of England and in Scotland; the beef version is often called cottage pie.

It is easy to see how someone new to Toronto or Canada could mistake shepherd for Sheppard; homonyms, or words that sound alike but are spelled differently, abound in English. For any newcomer who hasn’t seen the term written, it’s simple to assume that it is similar to Sheppard Avenue, a prominent Toronto street.

When I hear a word, I visualize its spelling in my mind – the key is to be able to visualize the CORRECT spelling. Sometime, it’s not as easy as it seems.

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