Fine words butter no parnsips. That is true, but if your parsnips are already well-buttered, there’s nothing wrong with fine words. Those words that you hear someone say and immediately everyone in the room feels a bit smarter. You don’t even have to know what they’re saying. It’s the luxury of them as if someone has walked in with a pyramid of Ferrero Rocher.
Fine words don’t have to be long. They could just sound fancy, have an ology or they might be a bit Greeky with a few ks or xes.
The news sometimes takes one of those words out of the drawing room to be bandied around by the uncouth. American politics is great for it. When Congress is being weird, sometimes an old word pops out. Sequester was around a few years ago – a vaguely violent sounding word, calling to mind a medieval punishment carried out by a rapacious and unscrupulous duke who is trying to claim a throne by having the rightful heir walled up in his castle.
But it was just budget cuts. Filibuster and furlough turn up regularly. And now we have quid pro quo which is Latin for ‘something or something’ or Trumpian for “nice country you got here Ukraine, shame if someone was to not give it money”.
In August, everyone on this side of the Atlantic was saying the word prorogue like they had been friends all their lives. Boris Johnson – a pro-rogue- was going to prorogue or suspend Parliament.
I have a few words of my own that I’m waiting to bring into polite conversation. Maybe throw them out in the In Between Ceremony And Meal bit of a wedding, just to shake it up a little over scones and prosecco. The problem is that I don’t know what they mean. I bump into them fairly regularly but the meaning never sticks.
I know them to say hello to. But we’ve no shared experience. In wedding parlance, I saw them at the mass but we’ve never been in the Resident’s Bar.
I can’t wait any longer for them to make the news so I’m writing a few of them down now with their meaning in the hope that it’ll stick.
- Stochastic. It means random. But swanky. A Brown Thomas version of the omigod sooo random. Your friends will look like Dealz by comparison when you launch this one, randomly into conversation.
- Heuristic. It just looks weird. You have to make a sort of duckface to say it but it’s definitely Greeky so it must be clever. It means to enable someone to learn something for themselves. I shouldn’t have told you that really, you should have looked it up.
- Epistemological - means relating to the study of knowledge. Look, I don’t know when I’m going to use this. I think it’d be good for me to know it but I don’t have the motivation. It’s like an exercise bike. It’s in the attic at the moment and might go up on Adverts.
- Praxis. That’s a cracker. I’ve seen that on a few Facebook comment threads underneath pictures of Karl Marx and I’ve tiptoed quietly out of the room. But it’s a manageable one. It means practice as opposed to theory. So in theory a column in the paper should be about something but modern column praxis is usually someone stuck for something to say and they end up writing a list.
- Inchoate – looks like a large mediaval porridge flake, sounds like ‘in Kuwait’. Means not fully formed.
- Dialetic. I’m going to remember the meaning of this bloody word if it’s the last thing I do. It means any formal system of reasoning that arrives at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments. So it’s something that never happens any more.
What are your strange words that you that you pass in the street? Don’t be pusillanimous! Say hello!
Colm O’Regan is at the Dublin Book Festival with Bernard O’Shea on November 17th .Tickets at www.Dublinbookfestival.com