I love words. I roll them around in my mouth and taste each. When I hear a new word, it tickles my ears and delights me. Words carry history with them and emotion. They are not formed only of letters but of feelings and experience and much more.
My obsession began when I was in eighth grade. In English class, the teacher would leave a dictionary on the desk in front of each row so we could look up a word and check spelling while we wrote a theme. I usually finished my theme early and would spend those extra minutes in that front desk, reading the dictionary, learning new words, savoring them.
No wonder I majored in English and Spanish in college: new words in two languages. I loved the study of language, the history of words. I could go on forever talking about root word, about how, in Spanish, words that began in F centuries ago changed to the letter H. Consider yourselves lucky that I’m not going to discuss the verb satisfacer and how it’s conjugated.
My favorite word is from Spanish: carcajada which means a deep belly laugh. It sounds like what it means and has such beautiful rhythm.
I understand not all people love words as I do. When I got excited about a word in Spanish and attempted to explain its origen or uses or something equally fascinating to my classes, students looked at me as if I were absolutely nuts. And, yes, I may be.
Do you have a word you like? Perhaps because of meaning or sound? Please share that. I’d love to know and I won’t feel so alone.
I taught high school and college Spanish for thirty years. For the most part, I really enjoyed my students. The only way to keep teaching is to love your subject and enjoy the age you teach. And to retire before you lose your mind or hurt someone.
Often my students were funny. One October day when I was teaching in Fort Bend County outside Houston, I noticed one of the guys in class had sweat pouring down his face. His hair was wet with perspiration and he was gasping for breath. Concerned, I leaned over his desk and asked what was going on, was he sick? He said, “Mrs. Perrine, may I go to the restroom. It was cold this morning so I put on my long underwear but it’s really hot now.” What I love about people in the South is they don’t understand they never have a reason to wear long underwear.
Another time I was talking to an upper-level Spanish class about Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist who paint a controversial mural of Lenin in Rockefeller Center. I asked, “Does anyone know who Lenin was?” One young lady raised her hand, so excited she waved her arm and said, “I know. I know. He was one of the Beatles.”
I always attempt to be polite and not laugh when a student says something funny. I don’t want to hurt their egos but I did chuckle a little–okay, I chortled- when she said that. They are young and she was sort of close.
One student I taught, Billy, could make me laugh any time. There are some students who believe they are funny but usually aren’t. He didn’t try to be funny. He just was. He’d say seriously in a voice filled with concern, “Mrs. Perrine, I have a lot of trouble with irregular preterit tense verbs.” I know that doesn’t sound funny, but I would laugh so hard I nearly fell off my desk.
Do you have a story about something funny that happened in a classroom? I’d love to read it.
I taught Spanish for many years. Some of my students were fascinated by the Royal Spanish Academy. Composed of the best writers, grammarians and intellectuals, the group decides the rules of the language, if they changed or stay the same. They publish dictionaries and grammar texts containing the correct grammar rules and word usage. I have one, a very old one. The reason is an effort to keep the language from changing too much so, centuries latr, literature can be read and undertood, so people distant from each other can still chat without a translator.
Americans have a populist view of grammar and change the rules as we go. Although I cringe when I hear, “Where’s it at?” or “Do you want to go with?” I realize that’s just how we roll.
We’ve even changed words to accomodate people who use them incorrectly. For example: literally. Up until recently, literally meant truely or actually, as in: I was literally holding my breath until he left.
However, over the past years, people have not understood this useage and began to say things like, “I literally turned blue from holding my breath.” It seems to add emphasis.
So what did the publishers of dictionaries do? They added the second meaning: perceived as true. So now we literally have a word that means the opposite of itself: truely and not actually. But that’s how we roll.
What words or uses drive you crazy? Have you learned to accept change?