October 5, 2012

Mark Twain: Fascinating Facts Friday

Welcome to another edition of what strikes my fancy, aka Fascinating Facts Friday.

My 7th grade daughter and I were talking about the "old English" (her words, not mine) in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, her assigned reading this quarter. Her teacher sent her home with a list of vocabulary words from the text.

I pride myself on being a word nerd, so my daughter decided to quiz me. Here's some examples from her list:


I'm going to out myself. The two that stumped me: conflagration (a large destructive fire) and lugubrious (mournful, dismal). My daughter was thrilled to have stumped me since just this week she asked me to stop using the words catawampus (although I love askew and wonky as well), discombobulated, and fastidious. She said they made me sound uncool and nerdy. What she doesn't know is that I embrace uncool and nerdy when it comes to words.

But back to her point about old English. Whatever happened to the beauty and complexity of the English language? I know using too many "big words" can come across as pretentious, but sometimes the bigger words do more justice. Pretentious has a beauty that showing off doesn't. Oh, or ostentatious. Yummy.

Since I'm using Mark Twain to illustrate my love of the language, it only seems fitting to share some of his musings...

"Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream."
"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."
"A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."
"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."
Read more at BrainyQuote.

What's your favorite big word? How do you feel about using "old English" in writing?


Julie Glover said...

It's interesting to me that I used big words with my kids even when they were young, and they just picked them up. It's like they didn't realize they were big words; they were just words. Sometimes, however, I'll use something they don't know, and they'll give me a look--but I chalk that up to the teen years, not anything about my coolness now. Because you and me, Tia: We drip coolness.

I personally love the obsolete word "kench," which means to laugh loudly.

Tia Bach said...

Julie, That's the best thing I've heard all day. I must run go tell my kids that I drip coolness. ;-) Thanks!

Kench is a new one for me. I love new words!

bookworm said...

I am totally uncool. I love both discombobulated and catawampus. I love the rhythm of both words. I asked my husband (who has a much better vocabulary than I do) if he knew the meaning of "kench" and he didn't. I love stumping him! I love Mark Twain - my Mom had a complete library of his works when I was growing up.

Helene Poulakou said...

I'm glad I know more than half of these words -- not bad for a foreigner, ha ha!

I'm very fond of Mark Twain, I love his humor and his aphorisms!

Jo Michaels said...

Nice list lugubrious is a new one on me. I shall add it to my vocabulary. My BF asks why I use big words and wanted to know if I thought it made me sound smart. I laughed and said, "No. I just love words." He smirked. I think I stump him sometimes.

I hate the word glowering. I don't know what it is about that word. It's close to glow and lower is in there so maybe that's why I cringe when I read it.

My favorite words: gargantuan, gobbledygook, asinine, ridiculous, fervor, poppycock, genuflect, and love.

All but love are hyperbole for other words :) Big, nonsense, stupid, silly, passion, lie, and kneel.

But I must use them because my writer's brain demands it!!!! Great post today. I love Mark Twain. WRITE ON!

Sue Ann Bowling said...

I think I recognized all of them--but then I think of "old English" as Chaucer. (Actually, he's more modern than Beowulf.)

Tia Bach said...

Alana, I am tempted to re-read Tom Sawyer just to enjoy the wording.

Helene, Not bad at all!

Jo, Love your word list. Asinine is one of my faves, too.

Sue Ann, I agree. My daughter things Mark Twain is Old English. ;-)