Sister Mary Catfish

Sister Mary Catfish
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Behind the Suburban Brick Wall, Arkansas, USA
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I'm a Generation Joneser teaching Gen Y students, taking care of aging parents and grown children, and living in the brick wall suburbia of a small southern college town. I'm just like you, really.

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JANUARY 9, 2010 11:54PM

Save the Words

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Finally, a cause I can get behind. Somebody hand me a Sharpie and some poster board because I feel like wearing a peasant blouse and having a sit-in. Where did I pack those Gloria Steinem aviators?

Wayne State University has it's academic fist in the air to save our language. No, no, no, this isn't about non-native speakers or official languages or anything whatever to do with immigration, so don't turn away. This is about saving the wispy, many-layered, pungent, specific bibelots of our language that are disappearing faster than we can tweet.

Their site is called Word Warriors, and they're saving the language one word at a time:

 

"In early 2009 Wayne State University launched this Web site to retrieve some of the English language's most expressive words from the dank closet of neglect, in hopes of boosting their chances of a return to conversation and narrative. Some of these words once were part of the common speech (it was hard to be a writer in the late 19th century, for instance, without  "indefatigable"); others have capered in and out of the language like harlequins, dazzling and then just as suddenly departing; others -- the wonderful "numinous," for one -- may never have been heard every day or even every year. Some, like "galoshes," just went into hiding for no apparent reason.

But no matter why especially marvelous words have disappeared from everyday use, we believe the following selection that we and visitors to this site have made still deserves to be exercised freely in prose, poetry, song and story. Otherwise, we simply aren't painting our speech with a full palette."

The the Word Warriors' 2010 List of "sadly underused or overlooked but eminently useful words that should be brought back to enrich our language" includes delights as bamboozle, mendacity, festoon, and scuttle. My brothers and sisters, there's not a Southern writer living who could write a check without using at least two of these. These words falling into disuse is a sad first step leading inevitably to everyone grunting and pointing in 140 characters or less.

Here are a few more on the endangered list:  conniption, dastardly, fetching, peccadillo, skedaddle, and zaftig. Can you imagine losing these words?

Luckily, you can participate by suggesting words that need rescue. Nominate a word on the Word Warriors site, then go out into the world and give these beauties a workout. Wave them like Old Glory before all the Southern lawyers die and take these with them to the hereafter.

We shall overcome.


(Image via Artworld Salon)

 

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Festoon is on my official list of funny words. I make a point of using it from time to time, so don't worry, it's not going anywhere. And as for mendacity: "I do not scruple to employ mendacity and a fictitious appearance of 'female incompetence' when the occasion demands it."

Vive la resistance!

Fechez la vache!