Mincing Words

Two years ago we took a trip to Germany where, for the first time, I meet some of my husband’s family. Although I attempted to learn the language from a CD leading up to my visit, the second I opened my mouth it became clear I’d learned nothing. So you can imagine my relief when I heard on the radio recently that on future visits, I’ll be spared having to deal with the longest word in the German language. Thanks to a change in European Union regulations, a word pertaining to law for regulating the labeling of beef has been put to rest by the government. The word,

Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz

…is now kaput!

Visitors toast each other on a sunny day during Oktoberfest in MunichEven the Germans are toasting over this one. You’re probably thinking that chances are beef production wouldn’t have come up in conversation during my trip abroad, anyway. Damn good thing because if I’d tried to pronounce it, I’d most likely have choked and sputtered to the ground.

The news story about its omission, however, did make me think about the words I choose when speaking.  Nobody wants to sound like the pedantic, pseudo-intellectual from Midnight in Paris (wait, did I just sound…? never mind).

Another place where I try to be careful with the words I choose is my writing. So you can imagine my surprise when a few readers of my new release, The Hourglass, told me that while they were reading my book on their Kindles, they had to look up a word I’d used. It seems my use of “curmudgeon,” to describe a character had stopped more than one person.

curmudgeons

Two well-known curmudgeons

Curmudgeons are people who can be difficult and ill-tempered at times. Not all the time.  There are moments when a little curmudgeon lives inside me. At least when it comes to certain matters…like politics or the checkout line at the grocery store. Other than that, I’m super positive.

Curmudgeons can be lovable, but they’re quick to spot the negative in any situation, often providing insights into life that speak to the cynicism within all of us. (ah-hem, let he who has never felt cynical be the first to cast a stone).

Famous curmudgeons include Ernest Hemmingway, Woody Allen and Andy Rooney.  A character in my novel, CJ Morrison, has curmudgeon “tendencies,” yet his redeeming qualities aren’t far behind. The heroine, Brenda McAllister, learns fast that there is a deep sensitive man beneath CJ’s surface. Not merely the grouchy exterior (hence the curmudgeon reference) she first stumbles upon. It really does take knowing a curmudgeon to love one.

I’m happy to keep the more unusual words in the English language alive with my writing. But for those of you worried about the removed German word, the country hasn’t gone completely insane. They’re keeping the word

Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe

…or as we say in English, Danube steamboat company captain.

Do you reach for big words in conversation? Got a word a day calendar that begs for attention?

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24 responses to “Mincing Words

  1. I hope to see both words in your next book Sharon…

  2. If there’s an appropriate word that describes a situation I’ll use it without thinking about it, both in conversation and in my writing. Maybe it’s an age thing, or possibly a British thing?
    In Wales we don’t have that extravagance of language that they enjoy in Germany but we have the very best place names. Places like Ystradfellte, Rhandirmwyn, Ynysgwnwraidd and the infamous Llanfair PG.

    • Hi Elin. I can’t stop laughing at that sign! That’s fabulous! Naturally, I spend far too long trying to pronounce it. And those other place names are wild. In this country, we get some native american words that are long like that.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I’m sorry to be the pedantic nerd from ‘Midnight in Paris’, but ‘Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe’ is actually the ‘Danube steamboat company captain’s widow’!
    I get your point though! Super post Sharon!

  4. LOL, Sharon – I love the word curmudgeon 🙂 It’s not used much. I love the word ‘sashay’ too, kind of cool. Another BOB author’s blog is called “Curmudgeon Corner” where she lets go on her pet peeves. It’s fun.

    Good luck with those German words. Happy Summer Solstice!

  5. hansue@optonline.net

    I loved your blog about mincing words and noted that the danube steamship company’s captain had left a widow behind. Yes, we Germans have a way with words. We just add a string of nouns together and explain in one long word what one normally would explain in a paragraph. Keep up the good word. Love, Hans

    • Thanks, Hans! You know, I found two different meanings; one with the widow and one without. I should have checked in with you before writing this post! Thanks for posting 🙂

  6. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    I love the word curmudgeon. It just…doesn’t it just sound like exactly what it means?? I think so.

    I have a “Forgotten English” calendar on my desk. Every day features another English word that has fallen out of use. My favorite, in all the years I’ve had this calendar, (Frank buys me one every Christmas) is scurryfunge.

    o_0

    The definition is: The tidying up one does upon seeing an unexpected visitor coming up one’s walk.

    Best. Word. EVER.

  7. Curmudgeon is such a beautifully descriptive word and definitely not used enough. Scurryfunge might be my new favorite word.

    Thanks for the education, Sharon!

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Kristi–Fun, isn’t it?

    • Naturally, Kristi, I ran and googled scurryfunge. Oh my God, I scurryfunge all the time! Don’t you. Guess we’ll fill the others in…Scurryfunge
      A hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor and the time she knocks on the door.

      Yup…all the time. 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  8. Great post, Sharon. I did subscribe to A Word A Day, but so far nothing very usable. Either they’re words I already know (“Big Kahuna”) or so obscure I’d never use them. What can I do with “Althing,” the Parliament of Iceland? Love the word curmudgeon, however. I live with one, so I’m familiar with their characteristics.

    • Thanks, Renee. I had a word a day calendar for a while and found the same thing. I think at our next CoLoNY meeting, we should all try to write a short piece around the word “Althing.”
      Thanks for posting!

  9. Happy to say I already knew curmudgeon, that was a high school vocabulary word. And it does sound like what it is. I scurryfunge all the time, I just never knew that was the name for it. I always referred to it as the much more clumsy “Quick! – Shove that crap under the bed!!!!” 🙂

  10. Curmudgeon sound like a word one wouldn’t normally hear of or use, unless maybe in scrabble. I had to look it up too and I like the way it rolls off the tongue, I thought it would be hard to pronounce. And yes, Germans do have some looooooong words. I’m surprised EU would bother regulating something like this, but EU seems to be full of silly regulations and no real actions. But that’s entirely a different headache

    • Yeah, I think curmudgeon isn’t a word you use every day. But you need it, it’s there. Sounds you like you know first hand what that EU is up to…a lot of nothing. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Well, my use of language is tainted with Australianisms. I made my USA copy editor laugh out loud at a few of my clangers. First of all, I had Abbie pissed on mojito cocktails. In the US, that means she’s angry. In a sex scene, Abbie’s insides did micky flips. My editor said, “What tha?” Slow coach had to get changed to slow poke. Words like Biro, kin ‘ell, and they don’t get eggs on their shins when they bang it on something in the US. So, I have a lot of fun trying to extract the girl from the Aussie lingo, and change the spelling – nevermind trying to use large words! 🙂 I try to be fair dinkum, dinky di, and a grouse sheila, but I guess it can be like a whole other lingo. Great post Sharon. 😉

    • Oh my God, Noelle! I can’t stop laughing! I love all those Austrailianisms! A micky flip…lol…that sounds either really great or really bad 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!

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