The challenge: select three words you’ve never heard of before and use each of them in ordinary conversation with a straight face, as if you assume the other person is familiar with the word.
This challenge, which sounds so easy, doesn’t it, took a sharp turn toward difficult right out of the box. That’s what happens if you’re a person who loves words and thinks you know a fair number of them. If you are such a person, I suggest that you turn to this site and see how you feel after a minute or so.
Choosing the words alone took me close to an hour, given the giant blow to my vocabulary ego and the fact that there are So Many Fascinating Words in the world.
It was obvious that I was going to have to narrow the search down immediately, so I randomly chose one word each from the B, N and M sections.
(That right there is a lie. I already knew the B word that I chose, but because it makes me laugh every single time I think of it, and also because my friend Absalom is at least as fond of it as me, I cheated and used it; sue me.)
The next challenge, using each word thrice in ordinary conversation with a straight face, was also difficult because I was on a 400-mile drive, with the only two other people in earshot being my two elder companions. This added a certain je ne sais quoi to our car conversations.
Me to elder female companion: Have you ever had a bezoar?
EFC: A what?
Me: A bezoar.
EFC (adjusting hearing aid): A boudoir?
Me: Bezoar. B. E. Z. O. A. R.
EFC: What in God’s name is a bezoar?
Me: An indigestible intestinal obstruction.
EFC: Oh. (Pause.) No. (Pause.) So a bezoar is like a bolus then?
Me (impressed): Um. Yeah.
Elder male companion (squinting at car loitering in the left lane of I-90): Look at that fool. Yapping on his phone.
Me: Yup. He’s a ninnyhammer.
EMC grunts in assent, accepting ninnyhammer without question; jury’s out on whether he actually heard the word or not.
EFC, on the other hand, pipes up from the backseat: What did you just call that driver?
Me: A ninnyhammer.
EFC: Is this another of those words, like bolus?
Me: You mean like bezoar? Yes.
EFC: Oh right. Bezoar. Bolus is stuck in my head now.
Me: At least it’s not stuck in your intestines.
Conversation #3 never happened, because I completely forgot what my third new word was. All 400 miles I racked my brain as to what it could be, but all I could remember was that it begins with M and means “emaciation.”
But this was no problem, right? My plan was to return to the Dictionary of Difficult Words and look up my M word as soon as I reached the Sleep Inn in Sioux Falls, SD and then race downstairs to the elder companions’ room to spring it on them in an ordinary sentence.
I got as far as the Dictionary of Difficult Words. But guess what? There are so many Difficult Words that begin with M, and so many of them are so fascinating, that I literally cannot locate the M word that means “emaciation.”
One hour, one Sleep Inn plastic cup of Bailey’s Irish cream over ice and a dozen times through my favorite songs on one of my favorite albums later, though, I do know the meaning of macradenous, musaceous, manustupration and melichrous.