Sunday, January 10, 2010


There are a lot of words in the English language that are underused. There are also too many that are overused, such as when my children say “like.” Ugh. It almost makes me, like, throw up in my mouth, like, just thinking about it.

Of course, “like” isn’t bad in and of itself. It serves a purpose at times, especially when it comes to similes, but unfortunately it has become one of those automatic utterances that are unbearable. The same thing happens every year when dictionary publishers peruse a list of possible additions for their grand books. Are they truly words of importance, or are they just popular buzz words that will soon wither and die?

I think any word to be considered for inclusion in the vaunted dictionaries of our time should be ignored if our grandparents never said it. The fact that the Oxford English Dictionary has recently added “staycation” to its list of worthwhile words is proof that we as a species can’t properly judge the merit of new words. At least fifty years must pass before a word is added to our approved lexicon. Otherwise we are faced with a cheapening of the language that I, as wordsmith, cannot stomach.

I am reasonably certain that no one will be saying “bromance” in 2020, and I likewise hope that “teachable moment” also eventually fades away. Both are trite and gimmicky, too clich├ęd to survive. Their overuse condemns them to obscurity.

Underused words, however, have staying power. Even if they are, well, underused. Every once in a while one slips out from a book or in a conversation with a friend and you can think, “Hmm, nice word.” Here’s a word that’s been around since the early 1700s (if my inadequate research can be trusted) but no one really uses it anymore: palaver.

That’s a good word! Palaver. It just sounds cool. It smacks of some wild west hombres sitting around a campfire, striking matches off their boot heels to light their hand rolled cigarettes, horses loosely tied to some nearby mesquite. I would sign up for just such a life, as long as there was somewhere I could plug in my iPod.

Palaver generally means “prolonged and idle conversation.” I wonder why no one really uses it anymore. Probably due to the lack of availability of hours-long campfire chats. Perhaps it is underused due to lack of familiarity, or just garden variety laziness. Regardless, I am here to return it to the public venue. Say it with me: palaver. Ahh, doesn’t that feel good?

The funny thing is I am generally not very good at palavering (the gerund form of the noun, or it might be a present participle, but remember: I rely exclusively on inadequate research). Prolonged conversation is scary for me because I am an impatient person. In my experience, most people use twenty-seven words when three will do, and very soon I just wander away.

Idle conversation is also problematic. Besides being impatient, I am also a control freak, and I want to have a plan and I want that plan to be implemented. An idle dialogue sounds too willy-nilly, and that can mean only one thing: everybody begins repeating their stories. The same things are being said by the same people who said them the last time. And there I go again, disappearing into the distance.

I realize I don’t often bring much new to the table either. My stories repeat, my observations are mere echoes of earlier ones, my opinions are tired and jaded. Sometimes I just stop talking mid-sentence because I am boring myself to death, and I pity the face(s) looking back at me. I can just imagine what they are thinking, so I walk away before they can tell me.

However, I’ve got a pal I’ve known for nearly forty years. We get together every once in a while, and the hours can just spin by if we don't pay attention. A couple of years ago our wives were both separately out of town, and I bicycled over to his house (I had mistakenly left my horse tied to the mesquite).

We sat and chewed the fat for a long time. A little reminiscing, but a lot of nothing more than “prolonged and idle conversation.” Eight hours went by before we looked at the clock. I can’t pull that off with too many people.

What I have to figure out is how to take what I have with this one guy and modify it for use with others. Unfortunately I have driven off most of my companions. Family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, have tired of my taciturn nature and my constant walking away.

Maybe I’ll start a little campfire in the backyard and invite over some hombres, ditch the tiki torches for some cactus and a fake mesquite plant if I can find one at Cost Plus. Then it’ll be time to chat.

C’mon, folks, let’s palaver. I promise I’ll try harder this time.

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