Saturday, September 5, 2009


Every now and then, someone will use a word in a way that takes me by surprise and delights me. Here are two recent examples:

While reading technical medical jargon yesterday to learn more about a condition, I ran across this phrase: “exquisitely tender.” How fun to stumble upon a word that makes most of us think of beauty, but is used to describe pain. I also think it seemed dissonant to find such an elegant expression in the midst of medical-ese.

I heard an explosion described on the news as “terrific.” That sense of the word has definitely fallen out of use. When I have my next migraine, I’m going to tell people it’s a terrific one.

On an unrelated note, I overheard a conversation not too long ago that demonstrated how NOT delightful words can be for some people.

The first thing I heard was a woman saying, “NO! Don’t say it.” This is the rest of their conversation:

“Don’t way what?”

“That word. I can’t stand that word. I can’t buy the stuff because I can’t say the word. I use rocks instead.”

“You mean mul….”


“Okay. Can I say ‘fulch’?”

“It’s filthy. Just let’s . . . I know it’s weird, but that word hurts to hear and hurts to say. I thought I was crazy until I met a woman in Florida who has a word like that. Hers is cul-de-sac. If you say it around her, she’ll scream and cry. Whenever she buys a house, she has to avoid cul-de-sacs. Like I use rocks instead of chips. That’s what I call it: chips.”

“That’s what you call mulch?”

And then there was a terrific shriek.


The Hammans said...

Language is such a powerful medium...especially in medicine when things can be "impressive" and such. I'm not sure that I'll ever think of mulch in the same way again.

B. said...

I still like "exquisitely tender." It was used, by the way, to describe a urethral diverticulum, which I apparently have, and which is, it's true, exquisitely tender. lol.