Friday, January 19, 2018

Word of the Day

I love weird coincidences.  I don't read anything into them, I just enjoy how they can make otherwise ordinary moments seem far more intriguing.

Our weird coincidence in the first weeks of this new year involves a word from my childhood:  Floccinaucinihilipilification.

When I was a kid my dad purchased the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It came in a two volume set along with a magnifying glass (to help with the ridiculously small print that it took to keep it down to only two volumes).  As part of some promotion that went with the purchase, my dad also got T-shirts for me and my brothers touting the newest word to claim the distinction as the longest in the dictionary.  No more was it the famed "antidisestablishmentarianism" but was now "floccinaucinihilipilification" which was a word cobbled together from bits of Latin and apparently intended as an etymological joke because it's definition was "to make little or nothing of something."

My brothers and I all took an odd delight in memorizing certain pieces of information and saying them aloud really fast.  I can still recite the last names of all the U.S. presidents in order from a poster we had in the 70s, but since the presidents only went up to Carter at the time I slow way down once I hit Reagan because after that I have to actually think about it rather than rattling it off by rote.  And thanks to our cute new T-shirts with the longest word in the dictionary clearly printed on them, we got really good at spelling the word floccinaucinihilipilification really fast.  I can still spell it really fast.

Anyway, last week in Latin Quinn and I were taking turns reading sentences out loud and translating them, and I stumbled on the new (to us) word "brevissimus" and laughed because it means "briefest" and it seemed like an awfully long way to say something was short.  It reminded me of the intended irony of the definition for floccinaucinihilipilification and I told the teacher about our T-shirts.  He understood what the word meant before I could tell him because all the bits of Latin are there for translation, but he enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed thinking about that strange little moment from my childhood again.

The very next morning I opened my email to find a forward from my mom of her "Word of the Day" service she subscribes to.  The Word of the Day was, of course, floccinaucinihilipilification.  She asked me and my brothers if we remembered the T-shirts and being able to spell that word really fast.  What are the odds?  Even if that word had popped up for my mom that same week it would have felt bizarre, but not even a full 24 hours from the time I brought it up until its appearance in my inbox is just weird.

I wrote her (and my brothers) about the coincidence of having just discussed it at Latin, and that I kind of missed my old shirt.  So then look what showed up in the mail a couple of days later:
No note, no return address.  I'm thinking this is the work of my brother, Arno, but Barrett or my mom could have been equally inspired.  (I love my sweet nerdy family.)  As soon as I reach a less messy step on the violins I'm building at the moment I'm wearing it!

A fun start to 2018, which is a good achievement for a big word that is worth very little.

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