My love of words was engendered by my mother. She was a master at feeding her three small children as a single parent with nary a nickel to work with and yet she always was able to cook-up a concatination (i.e., plethora) of etymologic sustenance.
Words were requisite ingredients to cook-up lofty ideas and aspirational values associated with high hopes, dreams and good wishes. Interestingly, while her vocabulary was not particularly erudite she had a predilection for artful linguistic structure and, as an interesting aside, her penmanship was artful, too.
I vividly recall one particular Saturday morning when I was just a 13 years old, following a grueling extra-curricular athletic workout, I espied an ingress to a local merchant’s business to make purchase of a cold liquid imbibement to quench a most wicked thirst.
The proprietor queried me with a terse: “what do you want” and I politely replied: “I’d like a soda, please” to which he answered in no uncertain terms: “I ain’t got none.”
Stunned by the uniformity of his monosyllabic answer, but mindful he had, at least, utilized a relevant contraction ( i.e., “ain’t” ), in that very moment I made a life-altering decision to learn a new nonmonosyllabic word once a week and to meaningfully apply it in a non-monosyllabic sentence whenever I spoke or wrote, thereafter.
Then one day, 13 years later, while providing psychological services to a 13 year old girl with a reported IQ of 160, (whose mother had an IQ 20 points even higher and spoke with her child equivalently like another adult member of Mensa), it occurred to me I was confronted with an equivalent linguistic problem which I experienced earlier in my life but in reverse.
Stealthily, I queried the mother: “how often do you regulary engage your child in casuistical circumlocution” as she looked at me completely dumbfounded.
I went on: “of course, there appears to be an element of specious dubiosity endemic to the tautological circuitry of these proffered linguistic constructions” at which point she proclaimed: “I have absolutely no idea what you mean” providing me a fortuitous opening to explicate that when she spoke with her “genius daughter,” the child had absolutely no idea what her mother was meaning by the big words the mother was using!
The mother immediately understood that while her 13 year old daughter certainly understood the literal definitions of all of the words the mother had spoken, that it was the meaning to be gleaned from the figurativity of those words which the child did not understand and which could only truly be ascertained from actual life experience obtained from experiencing life in real life and not just from a lexicographer’s reference.
The serendipitous lesson for me was insofar as my use of big words stopped this woman cold in her tracks and challenged her to more judiciously consider her actual and intended audience, vis-a-vis, her child, it concomitantly taught me that some of the most powerful messages are sometimes best communicated when the meaning is clear and simple.
So from time-to-time when I am asked for something I may not have, I tell it like it is and say: “I ain’t got none.”
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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