My "Verbal Arsenal" Misfires

My "Verbal Arsenal" Misfires

The radio ad was intriguing: "Every time you open your mouth to speak there's no place to hide." The man was selling a "completely unique" course in word enrichment for "busy people who want a powerful vocabulary but don't have time to study."

Talk about their target demographic — sign me up! I dialed the toll-free number knowing that I would be "completely satisfied" or get my money back. This outfit wasn't involved in schemes that would simply satisfy the consumer or were relatively unique (the pitchman apparently hadn't taken the course).

Soon hundreds of "persuasive and compelling" words would be stockpiled in my "verbal arsenal." I fantasized about moseying up to people at a party, after spraying the room with arcane verbiage, and then declaring, "Bang, you're all inanimate!"

But committing 800-plus bon mots to memory and then deploying them judiciously to ameliorate my "potential for success" was no picnic. To help me, the first step was to adopt a system for associating each word and its meaning with a visual image, like this: "Foist: to cause a person to accept something unwelcome as in the job was foisted on us." The supposedly handy "association" goes like this: "You're the foist unwelcome visitor we've had today."

Soon, however, I found, to my dismay, that not only was the meaning of "foist" elusive, but my pronunciation of the word "first" had deteriorated irreparably.

Here's another example from my new arsenal: "Hirsute means hairy or shaggy; the association is 'Her favorite suit is all hairy.'" Not bad, but I came up with a better memory aid: "This word is not known by every Tom, Dick and Hirsute!"

Filling my linguistic armory was rough sledding, but I was making progress. One day at the country store I decided to unleash my lethal lexicon on some of the good old boys. "Effete" (tired, worn out) seemed like a good choice at the time. "Yo, Chuck," I intoned, "you are are looking mighty effete today." Before you could say, "Hey, wait, look it up" I was supine.

And look it up I did (in my Webster's) while I was recovering. I found a few additional definitions that were not included in my Verbal Arsenal package, like "lacking vigor, decadent, sterile." I vowed to be more circumspect before firing off my next verbal barrage.

So down at the local bar, I decided to trot out "winsome" (attraction appearance or personality) on a member of the opposite sex. I circumambulated up to a young woman and averred (declared in a positive or preemptory manner): "Darling, I have been ruminating all night on the kudos appropriate to your ectomorphic, winsome superstructure."

Slap! To which she added this addendum, "One more word, you loathsome cad, and I'll knock you into next week!"

After a few such skirmishes, I completed the eight weeks of basic training. As the man on the radio had promised, the association technique had, indeed, "catapulted new words to my lips." Sesquipedalian semantic units fairly flew out of my mouth at all hours of the day and night. The high school-equivalency crowd down at the country store were emerald with envy.

One day, after one of my more devastating soliloquies, Festus poured his iced coffee all over on my hirsute coiffure. In days of yore, I would have yelled, "Why you worthless piece of garbage!" But this time, catching myself, I clearly and calmly began to enunciated my riposte: "Why, you unctuous, nugatory, Lilliputian welter of malodorous flotsam."

Somewhere between welter and flotsam he hit me, smack dab on the kisser.

Since this incident I have unilaterally disarmed. Every time I had opened my mouth to speak, it seemed, there was,unfortunately, no place to hide.