The world needs more xenodochy. And more words. My husband and I agree on the first point, and argue the second when we’ve nothing else to bicker about – which is most of the time.
He, a Lean Six Sigma professional, sees a plethora of synonyms as a hindrance to clear and straightforward communication. I see them as part of the 128-color box of crayons, as opposed to the cheap little set of three waxy, primary colors and a token green handed out to kids in nice restaurants to keep them frustrated – but quietly so – in their creative endeavors.
I may have accused my husband of wanting to exterminate imagination. That’s undeniably unfair of me, of course, and I will grudgingly admit that he has a point – although perhaps that point could be honed and channeled into squashing business buzzwords and marketing-speak, not dumbing down the language as a whole, simply to ensure that directions can be followed without lugging about an unabridged dictionary.
There is a time and a place.
They say that “Necessity is the mother of Invention,” but I would argue that boredom has spurred on at least as much invention as necessity has – or that our need to alleviate boredom is the most motivating need of all.
I think I’ve mentioned, before, the mischief I used to get up to, when confronted with the query, “What did you learn in school today?” I can’t tell you how many times, over the past three decades, I’ve wanted to bite off my own tongue for asking it. My children are no happier to hear it than I ever was, and yet it slips from the lips as naturally as breathing. My first addition to the lexicon was prompted by such a question, because the real answer was, “Pretty much the same as yesterday, nothing new.” That seemed deadly dull.
And so, I piped up from the back seat of the car (fortunately in the dark, where the adults couldn’t see me suppressing giggles and incredulity that they believed me): “Ampiology.”
“What on earth is that?”
Ohhh, now I had to think on my feet! What was that? “You know how when you have to do a whole bunch of things to numbers, like… two plus six times seven divided by three plus nine minus seventy three? That’s ampiology.”
And combining my age and relative lack of adeptness with numbers, I could hear the niggling doubt in the grown-ups’ voices, but I also realized they weren’t quite sure I was in the back seat spewing utter nonsense crafted on the spur of the moment. I’d probably at least heard the word, somewhere. It probably existed. Rather than call shenanigans on the whole thing, they looked it up when we got home.
Hah! Made ya look…
It’s not there.
We may yet live to see it added to the dictionary, Dad.
Back to Xenodochy
(An update, 05/03/2016)
I feel I’ve let you down, unless you clicked the link at the top of this post. Who knew I’d have nearly six hundred visitors to this post, alone, in one day?
Yes, I, too, was looking for interesting X words to fill a day in the Blogging A to Z Challenge – and this one was new to me. We speak a lot of xenophobia, the fear of strangers or foreigners, but this was the first I’d heard the word xenodochy: “kindness to strangers or foreigners.”
It’s an old, little known word from the Greek. The reference, above, is from 1737, found in “An universal etymological English dictionary: Volume 2,” Nathan Bailey, January 1, 1737. And we do need more of it – because the world we live in is no longer made up of small, isolated, self-sufficient tribes. It is made up of complex communities comprised of people who hold incredibly diverse views, whose experiences are vastly different, and whose skin color and ethnicity is like that 128-color box of crayons. These things are to be embraced, appreciated, used for good – or they will drive tiny wedges between us that will make civilization fall like a cracked mirror.
I long for the day when we can move past the superficial means of grouping and categorizing each other, and get to know what’s really interesting inside.
Is language nuanced by synonyms enriching or confounding communication?
Think of your favorite fiction – what kind of language do you prefer? One that stretches vocabulary and imagination, or one that gets straight to the point with spare prose?
There are no “wrong” answers here – my husband and I disagree, but we’ve loved each other for 34 years!
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