10/30/16: Words as Candy- or a Canon

For me, words are frequently a chuckle-feast for eye and ear. For example, exhausted young doctors who examine a patient must enter their comments and findings in medical charts., but their tired sentences often become garbled, which provide lots of light relief for the other sleep-deprived colleagues who review them. Some fun examples: 

-This man is a healthy-looking decrepit 69-year-old male, mentally alert but forgetful. 

-The patient refused autopsy. 

-Rectal examination revealed a normal-sized thyroid. 

-This patient was scheduled for a bowel resection. However, he took a job as a stockbroker instead. 

-He complained of occasional, constant infrequent headaches... 

-While in ER she was examined, X rated, and sent home. 

-Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch. 

-She is numb from her toes down. 

Nurses collect some of the best bloopers to share... 

Single words can be confusing to spell- and say correctly, for the uninitiated. 
Take, for example, ‘gnat.’ Why plunk a G in there? Why are certain first letters duly written, then speak-ignored? (Pneumonia? Gnaw?) 
 (A grammarian would probably answer, ‘Why not?’ 
That’s always a conversation stopper... 

Discombobulated’ precisely describes ‘rattled,’ and seems exactly tailored for how I am too often. But it’s wonderful to say. 
I envy the soul who first penned it. 

Scintillating is packed with motion; though for me, it lacks color. (One must ignore the second letter, here. (Or is it the first? Who knows?) 

Ann Landers, the columnist who became an ‘agony aunt’ to her readers, rethought the splendid word ‘boing,’ declaring that people initially “fall in ‘boing,’ defined, by her, as the shallow, bouncy beginning of a nascent relationship. Then marriage happens too soon, before they have time to explore the next two levels, friendship and love. 
Falling in boing...I wish I’d thought of it. It’s a champion switcheroo. 

Asinine succinctly describes idiotic. I think of that word like this- “9 times an ass”- and chuckle. It needs another ‘s’ though, to get it rite. 
Rough on the other hand, is weird. Why not ruff? Every time I write it, I grimace. Don’t forget tough and laugh
These ‘gh’ danglers give schoolchildren and foreigners brain fits. 

Hour. We say ‘our.’ But ‘our’ is light-years different from hour, especially if your native language isn’t English. 
We say hotel, not otel. (The French do, though. Initial written aitches aren’t spoken.) 
No wonder learning English has been described as ‘a challenging puzzle, with a dash of humour.’ 

Mississippi possesses a perfect body. By that I mean it’s gorgeous. Just look at it. Feel the rhythm. The balance. That word is made for mouths and pencils. Nobody in my third grade class ever got it wrong on quizzes. This is the word that kids with low self-worth, who thought they couldn’t spell anything, ever, always spelled correctly. 
Initially they’d look at it on the big chalkboard and panic. “Too long, Mrs. Blair, too many Ss- no way!” whispered one horrified little boy, intimidated by even tiny words, like ‘the.’ “I’m only eight!” (Then there is ‘ate.’ So different in every way. Those darn ‘other’ meanings and ‘gh’ letters certainly haunt the lexicon.) 
Anyway, the class agreed with him. But then we chanted it, rhythmically banging our desks, and ‘S’d it to death. 
The blissful look on that child’s face when he spelled it perfectly the first time was simply priceless. 
Mississippi makes me smile, every time. 

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious just rolls off my tongue. When I first heard it said-and sung- in a London cinema, I fell in love. It’s a beauty I unwrap very occasionally, preferring to save its magic for my infrequent down times. 
It was the second word those eight-year-olds learned. We chopped it up, reassembled it successfully, and the children spelled it perfectly. Anything I put before them after these triumphs was eagerly pounced on. Absolutely nothing intimidated them. 
They never looked back. 
Mastering monster words straight away guarantees self-respect. 

But words can be effective in other ways. A lifetime ago I organized and used them to signal ‘enough!’ 
In fourth grade at Catholic school I finally decided to respond to an overbearing nun who liked to lob multifaceted catechism questions my way, all the while suggesting that I, a pigtailed nincompoop in the last row, last seat (which wasn’t my fault; my last name began with Z), was an unimaginative, not terribly clever child. She made my school life miserable. Finally, I’d had enough of her verbal attacks and the class’s tittering. With a deep breath, I stood up next to my desk in my crisp school uniform, looked straight at her, aimed, and fired. 

“Not being fully cognizant of all the aspects of this situation I hesitate to hazard a supposition I cannot conscientiously substantiate.” 

I said this substantive gobblygook slowly, and deliberately. 
Then I sat down, still staring at her. (My mum told me that keeping our visual connection would make the sentence even more effective.) 

(I’d spent the evening before composing this monster, then committing it to memory. To deliver it flawlessly, under pressure, was immensely satisfying.) 
The whole class- 60 of us, in six perfect rows- froze. Anything could happen. That nun could be fearsome. 
She stared at me for a very long time, then adjusted her wimple and said: 
“Well.” 
After that, she left me alone. 

It was the first time I’d fired off a verbal canon- and scored a perfect bullseye. 
Sixty-five years later I’m still gleeful.

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