For many years now, one of my standard holiday gifts to Kish has been a “word-a-day” calendar. It’s a calendar that features a different, typically unusual word each day, gives you the definition and the pronunciation — if you can decipher those weird pronunciation symbols, that is — and then provides a quote that uses the word in a sentence.
It’s an interesting thing to check out each day, and a chance to engage in a little vocabulary building. Typically the words on the calendar fall into three categories: words we already know and use, words that you would never try to work into a conversation, and words that you actually think could become part of your standard word-stock. The first category is easily the smallest in size, but when the calendar does use a word we already use — yesterday’s word, for example, was rarefied — you feel a certain sense of accomplishment. The second category is the largest. Sometimes the words are so technical that there really is no chance to use them in everyday conversation, and others are so high-falutin’ you can’t imagine dropping them into a discussion. Tomorrow’s word, for example, is faineant, with an accent over the e, which means idle and ineffectual or indolent. I doubt I could even pronounce that one properly, much less find an opportunity to use it correctly.
But the third category is why you buy the calendar. Today’s word, quiddity, falls into that category. My favorite recent word in that category is gorgonize, which means to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect, and is synonymous with stupefy or petrify. I’m saving that one up for a choice opportunity — like when one of my friends tells a long-winded story about people I don’t know at lunch and I confess that their tale gorgonized me.