I am a word freak, a language maven, a…a vocabularist. Okay, so maybe vocabularist isn’t actually a real word, but it should be because it describes me to a T. Last week, my pal/fellow editor/writer, Mae, came up to the lake to spend part of my writing week with me. We wrote and talked and read and talked and ate and talked and drank wine and talked and…well, you get the picture.
One thing Mae and I share is a love of words. We are both fascinated with language and how we use it, especially unusual or quirky terms. Yesterday, she sent me this note referencing something she’d read in political pundit Charles Krauthammer’s column.
Krauthammer used this sentence in one of his columns, and I knew you’d love the words… He was referencing the fact that Romney has one more debate, but he missed an opportunity at the last one. I could have translated the term, but wouldn’t have gotten what the underlying meaning was. Esprit d’escalier (“wit of the staircase”) is the French term for the devastating riposte that one should have given at dinner, but comes up with only on the way out, at the bottom of the staircase.
Esprit d’escalier—wow! What a great term for coming up with the right crushing reply just a little too late. And it has the added bonus of being French, which is always a win for me. Incorporating French into my everyday usage is fun and helps me remember enough of the language that I won’t embarrass myself next time I go to Paris (that is happening!).
Mon Amie is one my favorite endearments for friends and I often sign emails to close friends, Bises, which is the word for the French way of kissing each cheek in greeting. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre is one of Son’s and my favorites. Translated literally, it’s “that’s life, that’s war, that’s a potato” but it means “That’s the way it goes” or “Dems de breaks,” and sometimes replaces merde (shit) when a disgusted French person is trying to be polite. I use Je ne sais quoi (I don’t know) and je t’aime (I love you) often. Husband and Son simply grin at each other. They know French is part of life with Nan, and that it’s not pretension on my part, but rather just a love of the language. Using French makes me happy.
As a writer and an editor, I have a passion for learning new words and using them. I got it from my mom, who also loved language and insisted we choose our words well. She spent serious time increasing our vocabularies with word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Probe and crossword puzzles. To this day, family gatherings always include word games. Our latest fave is Apples to Apples—très fun! I’m a whiz at spelling, and if someone asks me what a word means, I can generally come up with the correct definition without running to a dictionary. My grasp of language and its appropriate use is part of why I’m a terrific copyeditor (I have clients who’ll testify, honest!). I adore discovering new words and finding ways to use them in my writing.
So talk to me—tell me your favorite foreign phrases—the ones that bring you joy when you have the opportunity to include them in a conversation. Or share a great English word that makes you gleeful when you have the chance to use it.