In Episode 21 of my Fulbright Diaries, I used the word vituperation, which means something like violently harsh, abusive criticism. I got the word from Spanish, where vituperación is not exactly common, but you find it in the scriptures sometimes. I used it with my tongue in my cheek, as I sometimes do with big words. I also defined it within the essay, which is something a lot of high-falutin’ writers don’t do. So I’m teaching you new vocabulary with my essays, instead of excluding you because you don’t know my big word(s).

Then, last Thursday night, I was teaching a small class to Uruguayan Fulbright students to help them prepare for writing papers at their universities in the United States, where they’ll be going soon to begin master’s degrees. The question of diction or register came up, and we were also talking about vocabulary, and I gave the example of vituperation, which I had recently used, which I had “made up” from my knowledge of Spanish, and which happened to exist in English, but which, I said, I had never actually seen written or heard spoken anywhere.

Of course, you know what happened next.

I didn’t begin to see it everywhere but I did read it only two days later in an essay by John Sack called “In the Bunker,” which is in Best American Essays 2002. Here is his sentence: “The normal constraints of time, temperance, and truth do not obstruct some Jewish leaders from their nonstop vituperation of Holocaust deniers.”

I love the way the world is set up to surprise us and give us wonder.

PatrickConnections05/31/03 0 comments

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