My 2500-Word Wordlist IV
Bill Long 3/14/07
Categories of Words
This essay will not give the next 325 or so words of my growing list. You will have to wait for the next essay for that. What this essay does is to show how some of the difficult words actually can be clustered together if you study them with other words describing the same activity. When you begin to see these words "in context," then, another realization comes over you--and that is that these words, in fact, are easy to the people who are in the fields that use them. So, therefore, the learning of new words and their spelling is not as much a task for brilliance as it is for natural curiosity about oh-so-many things in the world.
There are tons of words "out there" describing historical costumes or shoes or types of moths or chemical elements or old musical instruments or minerals or medical terminology or equipment or theological doctrines. When you are trained in those fields it is easy to spell the words that those "outsiders" of us come upon. Thus, the real goal of being a good speller is to be an insider for almost every human activity--if not in fact then in imagination. Let me use this essay as a window into that thesis. Let's begin with punctuation marks.
Here are a bunch of them, arranged in probable order of familiarity. Where is your knowledge exhausted?
Well, how are you doing so far? I am not going to define them for you, so I hope you spend the time to enhance your knowledge.
You know, as I am studying the Scripps-Howard 23,000 word list, I am having some problems with it. Why? Because just like the SAT Tests, where "cultural diversity" folks argue that the tests are inherently biased against minorities because of what the testers consider to be valid and important knowledge, so with this word list. We have tons of words for skiing moves or horse riding techniques (not exactly activities engaged in by most inner-city kids), but very few sort of "street words" that have a rich meaning for those from more disadvantaged contexts. The list drips with words for French foods and fashions, but few are the words that emerge out of the Jazz or Blues or Ragtime worlds of the last century. I was even amazed at the number of Jai Alai words included (rebote, chistera, for example)--again, not the sport of West 135th Street. Now that my point has been made, I need to learn all these cutesy words. Let's begin.
After running into mezaire (spelled mezair in the OED--that is the problem also; multiple spellings, even though the Unabridged may only have one spelling) and levade, I decided I would try to study Equestrian terms in a more systematic way. So, I found this web site which discusses classical terminology for "on the ground" and "above ground" equestrian work. Again, I won't define these terms, because I expect you to be as curious as you need to be to be a good speller, but here is how it breaks down:
1. "On the ground"--school walk, trot and gallop, piaffe and passage.
2. "Above ground,"--in other words "school jumps," which consists of "mezaire, croupade, courbette, ballotade and capriole." And, in case you wondered what happened to the levade, the levade is recognized as the transition between the work on the ground to work above the ground (where the horse's legs are in the air).
Several of these terms appear on the 23,000-word list and all of them appear in the Unabridged. You can study them at the web site, too.
Ballet Terms/Ski Terminology
You could go on for a whle with ballet terms, derived from the French (just like many musical and food terms are Italian-based; those would be really good categories...), but I will only mention three that I ran into in the lists: ballon, a term to describe the quality, not necessarily the height, of a dancer's jumps; battement, a kicking movement of the leg, which actually can be broken down into about 12 or so sub-movements; batterie, the technique of quickly crossing the feet in front or behind one another, creating a "beating" effect in mid-air. We have plie, of course, and probably several others, but I will stop with four.
And skiing. You would think that this would be such a specialized vocabulary that the National Spelling Bee might swear off of it. But, nothing of the sort. The four words I have run into so far are piste, schuss, wedeln and, the most recently accepted by the Unabridged, avalement (ah vale MAH). The last one is interesting, coming from the French verb avaler, meaning to "swallow," and it means the technique of allowing the knees to flex and thus absorb or "swallow" bumps when skiing and turning at high speed so that the skis will remain in constant contact with the snow. There is even an article I found on Jean-Claude Killy (b. 1943), the great French skier when I was growing up, who was supposed to have either coined the term or invented the technique of avalement.
I began with the point that many of these words, though difficult for me at first, are simple to those who are "in the field." When learning about bamboche, for example, I was ticked to find this web-site which screams with the headline: "Haitian American Alliance of NY presents 'Bamboche Creole' highlighting Haitian American Achievements in the US." It talks about this event, which took place in 2005 with the following words: "Bamboche Creole literally means having a good time...It's having fun!" Thus, for all the apparent difficulty of the word, it really is very easy and familiar to fun-loving people in the Haitian American community. Maybe I just haven't partied enough...
Well, I will close with a reference to two words from philately. I collected stamps when I was a boy, and I became familiar with many issues from most countries. However, I wasn't familiar with the word burelage, which may be defined as "a design of fine, intricate lines printed on the face of security paper (or of the stamp itself) either to discourage counterfeiting or to prevent cleaning and reuse of a stamp." Then this web site also tells us to check out "moire" and "security paper." Moire (mo-RAY) is defined similarly to burelage, and then there is an example from a 5 cent King George V stamp with violet moire overprint (from British Honduras). So, two new words.
Ah, I also noted on this web site the word paraph, on the "frequent" list, which is a "signature or contraction of a signature" found on some stamps in order to forestall forgery and the word pacquebot. This last doesn't appear either in the OED or the Unabridged, and means "a postal marking applied to letters mailed aboard ship." Then there is pelure, a kind of very thin paper, but I am out of space for this essay. Other words must await another day.