Gavotte words?

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?

8 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Music

8 responses to “Gavotte words?

  1. Sheree

    Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

  2. Actually, this is a topic I’ve never considered. Learning vocab through music.

    You’ve picked some stellar examples. Let me give it some thought.

  3. Well, I’ve always liked: psychosematicopharmicologicalscematographographer, a word in less common use, but one which described using simple animation to describe the actions of over the counter medicines as they interacted with the human body. Broken down to its constituent words, it is easy to learn, remember, and use, and it is always one to draw looks of puzzlement.

    For me, radio was (and is) a much better source of creative “mis-hearing”. Take Jimmy Hendrix’s famous (and incorrectly heard), “‘scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

    I love new vocabulary, and as you may know, feature new vocabulary workds on UphillWriting.org 7 days a week. The trick with expanding your vocabulary, though, is not in the words you can speak, but rather the words you can hear and understand.

    As writers it is our job to keep our writing available to people of average vocabulary, not to twinkle them with the need to go to the dicutionary every 3.4 minutes. On the onther hand, while your general characters should not have too steep a vocabulary, one character in your story can certainly be a word snob. That’s always fun!

  4. What a fun trip down memory lane. It is too early in the morning for me to add any more words to the list, but I know I will be thinking about music and vocab all day now.

  5. The first time I heard the word ‘contemporary’ was around 1968 – and I took an instant dislike to it.

  6. Polly

    Rick Springfield: “You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute/ I wanna tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot” I don’t think I had ever heard that word before. Also love Indigo Girls: “I spent 4 years prostrate to the higher mind/ Got my paper and I was free”

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