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Jacquelyn Bengfort

Ironically, I recently learned that there’s a word for a wordhoard from one of my favorite ways to build a wordhoard: word of the day emails. Currently, I get the OED word of the day, although I used to get the (somewhat less fanciful) email. (Note to self: try, again, to sign up for emails...and check junk folder because you’ve definitely signed up with your current email address.)

from the fine folks of the Oxford English Dictionary

My largest wordhoard is a series of index cards that I can sometimes wrangle with a one-inch binder clip. (You know, when I’m feeling strong. This is not one of those days and there’s now a loose pile of index cards in my idea bin.) I built it during a 322-day deployment with the U.S. Navy, from March 2011-February 2012. When I enjoyed a word, it got a card. While I have (and will) always love language, I became especially geeky on that trip because 1) it was a long one and being a sort of uniformed Manic Pixie Dream Girl sprinkling the fairy dust of English lit nerdery helped me cope and 2) I was voluntarily teaching a vocabulary class to a rotating roster of Sailors and Marines hoping to raise their ASVAB scores.

That class deserves its own post. Suffice it to say I sometimes became breathless with excitement as I expounded on the glory of my mother tongue, and I would conclude class by recommending everyone replace their smoke breaks with short story breaks. (I recommended starting with Tony Earley's "Charlotte," and if you're lucky enough to have access to Harper's Magazine online or a copy of the Best American Short Stories 1993, I suggest you stop reading this post and go read it immediately.)

Here are some highlights from my 2011-2012 deployment wordhoard.

BLEB: a bubble; a blister or vesicle. This one becomes meaningful when you become a mother, it turns out. At the time I just liked how it felt in my mouth. Bleb. Bleb. Bleb. (The pleasant associations with this word are now long gone.)

REMORA: an obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction; any of several fishes of the family Echeneididae, having on the top of the head a sucking disk by which they can attach themselves to sharks, turtles, ships, and other moving objects. Obvious appeal to the seafarer. Looked this up in a dictionary so old the spine had actually fallen off and it was one of the few entries sporting a line drawing. Score.

OUROBOROS (alt. UROBOROS): a circular symbol of a snake or dragon devouring its tail, standing for infinity or wholeness. I used this one as an example of the serendipity of the English language when I was in teacher mode, trying to convince my students never to let an unknown word pass them by. First I drew one of these in a meeting (not knowing the word for it). Then a meeting-mate saw the word in a book he was reading and wrote it down for me. Then I looked up the definition. Then it came up in a book I was reading. Magical.

DARKLE: to grow dark, gloomy, etc.; to appear dark or show indistinctly. It’s also fun to say. A nice word to bandy about around sunset while standing watch on the bridge.

CHAPTALIZE: to increase the alcohol in a wine by adding sugar. Possibly it appeals to me because of my limited experience with beer brewing. I believe this practice is illegal.

GLACE: ice placed in a drink to cool it. It reminds me of one of the two words that kept me out of the state spelling bee: GLISSADE (to glide). The other? SHRIEK. Icouldabinahcontendah...if I could have spelled either of these words correctly under pressure. Quick, please, someone get me a drink. With glace.

PROCRUSTEAN: tending to produce conformity by violent or arbitrary means. I want to have a whole chapter in a book some day that consists of only this word. Chapter 3. Procrustean.

SALVO: a round of cheers or applause; something to save a person’s reputation or sooth a person’s feelings; an excuse or quibbling evasion; a simultaneous or successive discharge of artillery, bombs, etc.; a round of fire given as a salute. One must love the English language for words like this one, with its many distinct meanings dependent entirely on the context of its use.

PICA: an abnormal appetite or craving for substances that are not fit to eat. Did you know that some pregnant women crave dirt? I was lucky. I just craved cookies.

MILQUETOAST: a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated. Challenge--call someone a milquetoast in such a way that they don’t realize they’re being insulted, and report back.

Just think, next time you hold a dictionary: all the words are there for you to write something amazing. You just need to pick the best ones and arrange them in the right order. Spill some ink. Organize some pixels via word processor. Build your wordhoard, and then deploy it to the best of your ability.

How do you build your own wordhoard? Any favorite words? Comment below!