Monday, July 23, 2012

Mr. Clarity goofs off

I haven’t goofed off since June 30, 2011, and I beg your indulgence while I do so today.

For a few decades, willy-nilly, I’ve been keeping a list of favorite words and phrases (including willy-nilly). They are my favorites because to me they sound onomatopoeic, arcane, archaic or comical. Or just pleasing. Or they have happy memories attached.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, please come back Thursday for more of the usual fare.


Flimsy: Very onomatopoeic, and a very sensuous sound.

Blurt: Somewhat onomatopoeic. Also, to me, suggestive of how one feels after blurting. 

Aleatory: I love this arcane word because it evokes Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. For years I’ve hoped to get a chance to use this word in a non-contrived sentence on this blog. But so far I haven’t been lucky.


Falda: (Skirt.) The English word skirt is such a masculine-sounding name for a woman’s garment that it’s wonderful to encounter the Spanish word falda. I can’t imagine a more feminine sound.

Ferrocarril: (Railroad.) A great word when you’re learning Spanish. It contains not one but two double r’s – which gives you a lot of trilling practice. 

Esperanza: (Hope.) I love this word because it is euphonic, because it approximately rhymes with the happy Italian word abbondanza (abundance), and because my wife and I spent our honeymoon in a place called Esperanza.


Küss die Hand: In college German class (1963), I was led to believe that some men in Austria still greeted women by saying “Küss die Hand, gnädige Frau” (“I kiss your hand, gracious lady”). I thought, “Maybe in Mozart’s day, but not today. We will see.” So, during a stay in Vienna a few years later, I gathered my courage and started saying it. No woman laughed or slapped me; no man who overheard me challenged me to a duel. Apparently the phrase was old-fashioned but still appreciated. I thought it was sublime that men still said things like this and women still liked it.

Hoppelpoppel (pictured): In one of my German-English dictionaries, I saw this impossible-sounding name for a breakfastfood. During a trip from Bavaria to Austria, I looked for it on a menu. I didn’t see it and was nearly convinced that the word Hoppelpoppel was a joke that the locals play on tourists, a culinary Loch Ness Monster. With a straight face, I said to the waiter, “I realize it’s not on the menu today, but I would like Hoppelpoppel.” With an equally straight face, the waiter replied, “Of course, sir” and within minutes the dish was served.

Pempelfort: While I was in Düsseldorf on business, my host said we were going to dine in a part of Düsseldorf called Pempelfort. I said, in German and in a friendly tone (and hoping his ancestors hadn’t founded Pempelfort), that the name sounded comical to an American ear. He smiled and whispered conspiratorially, “It does to us, too.” I didn’t know if he was humoring me or not. Either way, it is a nice memory. And the restaurant served phenomenal asparagus.

The Takeaway: I’m going back to work now. Have a great day, my fellow wordies.

See disclaimer.

1 comment:

  1. This is great fun! I can report that Küss die Hand was still going strong in Vienna in 1972/73 when I lived there, only sometimes it was a kind of air kiss. For years I corresponded professionally with an Austrian gentleman, the director of a literary institute. His letters always ended "Küss die Hand" over his signature, instead of a convential closing.