Thursday, July 2, 2009

Words and Memory

A waste of time for you, fun for me

I've spent the better part of this week studying for the GRE, which I will take when I am home in August. I spent 2 whole days refreshing my math skills (it's been 6 YEARS since I've had a math class!) and another whole day working on vocabulary. As I was reading through the hundreds of words and definitions that I found in an online GRE study guide, I actually went on kind of a trip down memory lane.

It's said that smell is the sense that's most strongly tied to memory. That may be true, but for me, certain words this week have brought up some pretty vivid memories, too. For some of the words, I remember exactly what was happening when I learned them, for others, there's some incident which strongly attaches itself to the word, which I had learned long before. I'm including a list here for your reading pleasure, assuming that you're interested in my memories and how I have learned some of my vocabulary. You're probably not, but you would rather read this and waste your time than do something more important. ;) I'm not going to include actual definitions here (just allusions to them), so you'll have to look them up on your own if you come across a word that's new for you. Sorry.


I actually don't like this painting
(it's what my dad, and I, would call "weird"),
but I thought it fit with today's theme


acumen: from listening to Edgar Allen Poe on tape when I was... 12 years old (?) My mom bought a cassette tape boxed set of Poe and this word occurred in my favorite tale, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

anemia: learned from a bright Senior trouble-maker who wrote for our school newspaper when I was in 8th or 9th grade. He had created a cartoon which questioned the wisdom of an already pale, blond, fellow Senior participating in the blood drive.

apogee and perigee: 8th grade shop class? I'm not sure why we needed to know this, but I remember having a really hard time getting my mind around the concept (you mean the moon's orbit isn't actually a circle?) and remembering which was which.

bacchanalia: thanks to my second semester freshman Classics 180 professor (Greek Mythology), who, for a full month before spring break referred to the impending bacchanalia in EVERY class session I'll never forget this word.

benevolent: first day of 7th grade English with Mrs. Gautreaux. We had two assignments right off the bat: to write our autobiographies (which became graduation gifts 6 years later...) and to figure out what "benevolent dictatorship" meant, because that's what we were getting ourselves into in her class.

bullion: from 4th grade when we read Snow Treasure, a book about school children in Norway sneaking the country's gold to safety on their sleds, right under the noses of the Nazis

cache: I'll never forget this word after the private embarrassment of not knowing what the proctor was talking about when he read this word in the Saline County spelling bee when I was in 7th grade. As far as spelling bee embarrassment goes, it was worse for me when I misspelled "superintendent" at County... I sometimes still second-guess myself on this word (sorry to let you down, Dad).

cogent and copious: favorite words of a very smart ex-boyfriend

colloquium: Senior year of high school, the Honors' Colloquium was one of many wonderful UNL-related excuses to get out of school... I had to find out if I REALLY wanted to go there, to miss as much class as possible, and to have fun speaking informally with other potential UNL Honors freshmen

diorama: learned from a project created by boys in my 6th grade class. I was secretly embarrassed that these boys new a word that I didn't know (of course I didn't let them know that I didn't know...)

doldrums: second semester sophomore year at university we read Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in my "Brit. Lit." class. and the whole poem took the wind out of my sails.

eugenics: from my sophomore year genetics text book. I'm glad I'd never even heard of this word before then, now wish I'd never had to, terrible stuff...

expedite: this word will probably be forever linked in my mind with bribing the government to do its job. Did you know that it doesn't REALLY take them 6-10 weeks to process a new passport?

gait: learned from helping my mom work with some of her less ambulatory patients

hypochondriac: this word was cemented for me in high school when one of my classmates-- who shall remain nameless-- was constantly worried (hoped?) that she had appendicitis or some other tragic and interesting health problem

ignominy: from my summers of light reading... this word was almost embarrassingly-- shamefully-- repetitive in The Scarlet Letter

inconceivable: forever in my mind linked with Wallace Shawn's lisping Vizzini in The Princess Bride ("I don't think that word means what you think it means")... Another great word from this movie: putrescence (boo! boo!).

insipid: another word learned from learning Spanish... one day during lunch with my host family in Mexico, my host mom and I had a lengthy discussion about our sopa insipida (insipid soup), as she tried to figure out what should be added to the broth. As she was wont to do, she took the insipid theme and extrapolated it out to a lot of fun word play... oh, Rosa.

mangy: from Papa making fun of my brother's favorite stuffed animal, a fox puppet, which he constantly-- to my brother's displeasure-- referred to as a "mangy squirrel". Still makes me laugh. :D

menagerie: from Disney's Aladdin, the song "Prince Ali," when Aladdin comes parading into town to impress the sultan and win his beautiful daughter's hand (this song also taught me the words genuflect, hoards, coterie, amorous, and fakirs).

morbid: from reading Jurassic Park in 6th grade (my first Crichton novel... ahh).

pestilence: Mrs. Gautreaux's middle son had a brief obsession with this word-- saying it like 5 times in one day-- when my 8th grade Sunday school class was talking about the 10 plagues in Egypt.

predilection: solidified for me through my study of Spanish... predilecto is another word for "favorite" in that language.

pyromaniac: oddly, I learned this from our church's vicar in my 7th grade confirmation class in Crete... during a discussion of the 6th commandment. Figure THAT one out (okay, it comes from the name of a band called "Porno for Pyros" and he was trying to be hip in talking about the commandments with my reprobate classmates).

slovenly: I was a bit hurt, but undaunted, when I learned this word for the first time, since it was used about me. My grandma said it because I wasn't wearing nylons to the prom.

subsidiary: this word was embossed with the name of the toilet paper company (which I don't remember...) on the toilet paper dispenser in the Nemaha Valley High School girl's room. Inside my mind is a strange place to be, remembering THAT.

surreptitious: When you're as much of a fan of 19th Century British romance novels as I am (Austen and the Bronte sisters), you're always coming across people sneaking these secret peeks at their objects of affection

vagabond: Disney songs ARE educational. This one comes from The Lion King's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Interesting that when I was in high school, one of my best friends misused this word, thinking it was some kind of designation of royalty. When I asked him why he thought that, he cited The Lion King... He was pretty excited about it, though, when I explained that it basically means "hobo." He likes the word "hobo."

verbose: learned from my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Gallagher, the LAST time I was preparing for a standardized test.

warren: Just about the only thing I remember about Watership Down which Mom read aloud in its entirety during a family vacation roadtrip when my brother and I were kids. I never thought that rabbits were all that interesting...

I have more words that stirred up memories for me during my recenty vocabulary study, but I'm sure that 30 is more than enough to include in this list.

4 comments:

Andrew said...

Misspelling "superintendent" isn't spelling bee embarrassment, misspelling "beetle" is.

I spelled it like the band and went out early despite being one of the favorites to win.

AshleyEffken said...

Spelling it as "superintendant" is embarrassing when that's your dad's job title...

Chase said...

The misuse of "vagabond" is a reference to me, isn't it?!

AshleyEffken said...

Yep, you got it! Why did you think so? Do you remember this too, or did you just assume you were my high school guy friend who likes "hobo"?