Do you ever think about—really think about—where we get our vocabulary words?
They come from an endless variety of places. There are the ones we were forced to learn in school, the ones we read in books and looked up, the ones we heard smart people use and adopted as our own. There are the ones our parents wrote on cards and made us study in the small room of the house.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still collecting vocabulary words. From time to time I spotlight my favorite ones in this space. Right next to the song lyrics.
Only recently have I thought about the words I learned in my adolescent years as a radio junkie. One day last week, while in the car, I remembered the first time I ever heard the word invincible. I wonder if you learned it from the same source.
If you’re about my age, and you grew up listening to Top 40 hits of the 60s and 70s, you too might have learned invincible from Helen Reddy. “I am strong, I am invincible, I am wom-a-a-a-n.”
I’m making an effort now to listen more closely and nostalgically to the oldies so I can build the list.
I had never heard of a funeral pyre until 1967, when The Doors sang, “and our love become a funeral pyre,” which I confess I thought was funeral parlor; it makes about as much sense, not to mention the lack of subject-verb agreement. Leon Russell came along in 1972 with “I’m up on a tight wire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre.” I still didn’t know what a pyre was but I liked the song and, looking back, it’s pretty darn poetic.
Let’s skip over pompatus, because it’s been overdone and everyone knows pompatus isn’t really a word. Next?
Again in 1972, I learned a word that I couldn’t imagine ever using, but it caught my attention when Carly Simon sang, “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte.” I think I did try to look up gavotte as a curious 12-year-old, and have been looking for the right opportunity to use it ever since. It was also in “You’re So Vain” that I first heard of Saratoga.
In 1973, I first heard the word espionage. Anyone remember where? It’s obscure, I know. “He’s a mastermind in the ways of espionage.” All these years later, I still know all the words to “Uneasy Rider” by Charlie Daniels (from which I also first heard of John Birch and Mario Andretti).
I know there are more. Can we keep this going?