Since the CWS (College World Series) has misspelled college as “colllege” in their banner, I thought I would play with words today. I like words: I like how some sound (like the word banana — the syllables just roll off my tongue), how some are spelled (like Mississippi — thank you Jimmy Cricket for that spelling), and the meaning of some (like obsequious).
I have always liked words. When I worked with words on a daily, hourly and minute by minute basis, I would continually search for a new word, browsing through a dictionary, a thesaurus, or a magazine (Vanity Fair — when Tina Brown was editor — produced a myriad of great words — loved that magazine then). And there was one other place I learned new words.
I don’t remember his name, wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a crowd, but I can sure remember what he taught me. At that time, I was an editor for a trade magazine and most employees were engineers or architects. During the course of compiling information for one of his research projects we talked and discovered we both enjoyed words. We began a daily tease with each other. He would walk by my desk, really a stroll if I remember his walk, and he would simply say a word (vacillate, misnomer, adjure) and continue on his way. He had an office so I would walk by his door, make sure he did not have a guest, and say my word (ubiquitous, precipice, consort). It was fun, sometimes thought provoking.
But, there was one word that I will never forget. It was a day when I stepped inside his office to give him his daily word. He looked at me and said “obsequious”. I had never heard that word before. Never. I asked him what it meant and he told me to look it up in the dictionary. He spelled the word for me and I went back to my favored book, the Webster dictionary — “overly submissive”. I needed to make my way back to his office. This time as I walked in, he said “a boot-lickin’ whimp, huh?” I smiled, shook my head, and went back to my desk.
He did have a way about him, didn’t he? He could take a word and give an accurate meaning where I would never forget its introduction and significance to my world. Today, obsequious is “a boot-lickin’ whimp” to me and always will be even though Webster has a different way of defining the word.