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Favorite words

By Staff | Jul 20, 2022

Many of us are interested in words. We are curious about their origins. Sometimes we like to try using a new word in our vocabulary. It’s sort of an interesting hobby. It can be fun to pay attention to the words and phrases others use.

A lot of us have favorite words that we use. This past week, I read a news article on ksl.com and then read the user comments that followed the article.

One person who posted a comment, used a word three times in the short paragraph. I’m assuming that it is a favorite word of that person. The word was “gobsmacked.” Weirdly, I heard “gobsmacked” used by someone on the radio this past week. It seems like I’ve heard the word before, but I had to look it up.

If you didn’t already know, “gobsmacked” means astonished, astounded, amazed, awestruck, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, etc. (Those are all great words as well.)

Evidently, “gobsmacked” originated in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England where “gob” meant mouth and “smack” meant “to hit.” So the idea is that if one is astonished, one is smacked in the mouth and is unable to speak – which is the same as being “found dumb” (dumbfounded).

Here’s the story of my favorite word. When I was a teenager, I went with my parents and an older brother to the airport. We were there to pick up my sister who had been in Grenoble, France, on a college study abroad program.

The plane was late – several hours late. My sister had a friend who was also on the plane and the friend’s boyfriend was there to greet her. My brother and I, along with the boyfriend, decided we had time to kill, so we went downtown to see a movie. My folks probably wouldn’t have approved of the movie (chosen by the boyfriend as I recall) — but that’s another story and beside my point.

The point of this story is that this was the evening where I first remember hearing the word “phenomenal.” The boyfriend apparently liked the word and used it several times while we were together. I remember that he was particularly impressed with the snow on the mountains near Salt Lake and repeatedly said that it was “phenomenal.”

“Phenomenal” is high on my list of favorite words. I use it in many circumstances. It is phenomenal how often I use that word in my everyday speech.

I’ve read that an average person (whoever that is) uses about 2,000 different words in a week’s time. An average educated person knows about 20,000 words. A little research (Oxford English Dictionary official website) shows that there are over 600,000 terms in the English language.

I think a lot of us have our favorite words. Sometimes we adopt a word and it’s with us as a fad for a while and then it’s gone and we’re on to a new favorite word. Some are with us for a lifetime.

I suspect that the word “cool” was once thought of as a “fad word” which would disappear. “Cool” has proved to be a word that has entrenched itself in our society and is a frequently used word in my vocabulary.

Oft quoted Yankee baseball legend, Yogi Berra, was at a society function and was told by the mayor’s wife that he looked “cool.” His reported response was, “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”

I’ve known a guy for many years and he has used the word “marvelous” heavily for all those years. Another guy I knew, now deceased, said “special” all the time. (Remember Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” character on Saturday Night Live using the word “special?”) These have to be the favorite words of these guys and I think they sometimes have been made fun of a little bit because of it.

I’m sure if you think about it, you can think of what the words are that you and your family and friends use frequently. It’s a fun little exercise to observe these vocabulary patterns.

Of course many of us know, use and hear words which are not fit to print in a family newspaper. I reckon that these words could be considered as favorites with some people. They seem to fit some occasions, though many of us try to keep them to a minimum.

I remember that a church leader once was asked if he ever cussed. He answered to the effect that, “No, I don’t use that kind of language. But when I’m angry, where I spit the grass doesn’t grow.”

It’s fun to listen to people talk and hear what words they use to communicate. It can be very amusing. Try it sometime. I think you’ll find that it can be phenomenal entertainment. — Merrill


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