May we have a word?

Tracing the unexpected twists and turns in language is one of my favorite pastimes. So, I’ve decided to use this blog to share thoughts about some of my favorite and least favorite words. And I would like you to join me, right now, in fact. The wonderfully eclectic nature of 21st century English assures we’ll never run out of topics. But where does one begin to demonstrate some of the bizarre mysteries of our language? How about with the word bizarre?

The etymology of this two-syllable gem shows that experts are unclear as to its origin, which is a common occurrence in English. In other words, we can’t always trace the history of words we use in everyday speech. It’s no wonder that some people literally don’t know what they’re talking about!

In the case of bizarre, was the word inspired by the French, who found very strange the beards (bizars) worn by Spanish soldiers? Or is the word Italian in origin and possibly a linguistic descendant of the word bizza, meaning fit of anger? Stumped modern-day etymologists can only scratch their beards and wonder!

And none of this speaks at all to the bizarre, er, weird situation involving bazaar, a phonetic impostor, or phonogram, that has absolutely no connection in meaning to bizarre even though it sounds identical! Oh my.

Words sometimes demand our attention because of their visual oddity – some simply look strange. Just yesterday (really, yesterday!), I had occasion to employ the word slid when developing an e-mail message. Odd word, slid. It’s one of those that looks like it’s not spelled correctly even when it is. Peering at the word on my computer screen, I began to wonder about usage – if the past tense of slide is slid, what about its past perfect form?

Today I slide.
Yesterday I slid.
I have often _____.

Slid? Slidden?

It turns out that that the past perfect forms of slide can in fact be slid or slid’s even clumsier cousin slidden! My compliments to our resourceful summer assistant, Lisa Schluttenhofer, whose word sleuthing finally settled the matter of proper form.

Proper or not, slidden looks and sounds awkward to me. I commented to Lisa that slidden may not have a place in the Queen’s English. Lisa retorted that the queen probably does not slide all that much anyway. We reckoned she has people who slide for her. Sometime, I must ask them if they prefer slid or slidden for past perfect usage.

Anyway, what are we to do with all these weird and wonderful word specimens? I suggest we use them. Enjoy and celebrate them. Share them. If you agree, why not slide over to your computer right now and reply with a post about the words that most puzzle, amuse and annoy you? Abigail, Lisa and I can’t be the only word stalkers who frequent this blog. Come on, agricultural communicators, we need a word from you!

~ Mark Tucker, Coordinator, Agricultural Communication

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