Introduction to Amazing Words
At seventy-four years of youth, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth. Looking back at my life, I can honestly say that I have pretty much closed the distance between who I am and what I do. When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, and writing forty books has never felt like work.
Especially this one.
That’s because the good people at Marion Street Press asked me to present to the world the approximately three hundred most amazing words I know. “O Frabjous day! Kaloo! Kalay!” I chortled in my joy. I’ve hung around with words my whole life, and many of them have become fast friends. Now I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to share with my readers the most logologically, etymologically, and linguistically amazing words among them.
Those three adverbs — etymologically, logologically, and linguistically — make for a mouthful, so I’ll illustrate their uses with the word usher. Like humanity, usher has a long history, going all the way back to the Latin ostium, “door,” related to os, “mouth,” because a door was likened to the mouth of a building. Usher, then, turns out to be a body metaphor for a person who stands at a door.
That’s etymology. The Greek etymon means “true, original,” and the Greek ending -logia means “science or study.” Thus, etymology is the science or study of true and original word meanings. What unalloyed fun I’ve had auditioning a flash mob of amazing words for Amazing Words and spinning out the yarns of the origins of the most bedazzling, beguiling, and bewitching of those words in our glorious, uproarious, notorious, outrageous, courageous, contagious, stupendous, tremendous, end-over-endous English language.
Has there ever been another word as human as usher? In sound and meaning it is not a paragon among words, but it accommodates the full spectrum of humankind. Living in the house of usher, within its brief compass of five letters, we find, with the order of letters preserved, the pronouns us, she, he, and her.
That’s an example of logology-the dance of the alphabet, the revelation, the showing forth, of letter patterns that cavort and caper inside words. Take it from me, Riddler Reacher, which is an anagram-a rearrangement-of all the letters in my name, Richard Lederer.
Usher winkingly reminds us that all words are created by people and that language unfailingly reflects the thrilling contradictions of our kind. Thus, even though writers write, bakers bake, hunters hunt, preachers preach, and teachers teach, grocers don’t groce, butchers don’t butch, carpenters don’t carpent, milliners don’t millin, haberdashers don’t haberdash-and ushers don’t ush. That’s an area of linguistics, the scientific study of language, in this case taking words apart to analyze and play with their meaning-bearing elements.
As International Punster of the Year (no kidding; there really is such a title), I promise you that a fair piece of the wordplay in this book will be puns. After all, a good pun is like a good steak-a rare medium well done-and an excellent pun is its own reword.
I invite you to come through the entrance of this book; I guarantee it will entrance you. The entry for entrance will explain how we use both those words, which are made from the same letters but feature different etymologies, meanings, pronunciations, and accents. Like usher and entrance, the words you are about to meet in this book are seldom fancy or arcane or sesquipedalianly long. Rather, they are words you pal around with every day, and you’re about to get to know a thousand of them a lot better.
Words are who we are. Words are what we do. Words inspire the heart, spark the mind, beget laughter. Words move the world. Words are as great a joy as food and drink and sex. May Amazing Words fill you with such tasty, palate-rinsing, and connecting pleasure.