At the end of last week, and into the weekend, I felt pretty rough. Tired, and washed-out, and hardly fit to string a sentence together. It felt, more or less, like I’d been squashed flat. Not a lot of fun.
However, it did have one upside, and that was this: I finally got time to watch a few old episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, which (I hate to admit) I haven’t been following right from the start. I’d only seen series three up to last Saturday, and one of my Christmas presents to myself was the box set, which includes every episode so far. So, over Saturday and Sunday I settled in with series 1. And it was good.
Now, there’s plenty to like about Sherlock. The cracking dialogue, and the excellent characters, and the clever plots (and, if you’ve got any familiarity with Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels, the little references and nods, here and there, to the stories as they were originally written), and Mrs Hudson (who is just the best), and sweet, awkward Molly, and the deliciously unhinged Moriarty. Not to mention, of course, the main attraction.
Whoever cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson needs a knighthood (or damehood, or whatever). Their dynamic is perfect, and their acting superb, and just… yeah. I’m fangirling now, so I’d better rein it in.
Anyway. All of this is leading to a point, I promise.
During one of the episodes, Sherlock (not a man who chooses his words with anything less than precise, elegant care) drops ‘meretricious’ into a conversation about a recently discovered corpse. In surprise, Inspector Lestrade replies ‘and a happy New Year’, looking a bit confused. I laughed at that, not just because of the funny dialogue, but because of the sheer wonder of the word ‘meretricious.’ I repeated it out loud to myself a few times (which probably means it was lucky I was alone), enjoying the sound, and spent a few moments being glad that I’m a person to whom words are important.
Meretricious. Try it. You might find you enjoy saying it as much as I do. You may even find cause to use it in a sentence today, despite the fact that ‘tawdry’ or ‘tacky’ would do very well in its place. They just don’t sound the same.
You can’t help but admire a character who uses a word like ‘meretricious’ in a sentence without even thinking about it, can you? As a kid, I was often told I’d swallowed a dictionary, because a word with fourteen syllables would always be my first choice (despite the fact that a word with three syllables, which meant just the same thing, would have done equally well); I also had the classic reader’s problem of mispronouncing things, because I’d only ever seen them written down. I really admire a character who is written in a way which appeals to my vocabulary-loving heart, and it got me thinking about some of my other favourite words.
Pusillanimous. ‘Timid’ or ‘weak’.
Pulchritude. Meaning, slightly ironically I think, ‘beauty.’
Prestidigitation. Sleight of hand.
Susurrus (I share the love of this word with Tiffany Aching, which makes me proud). ‘A rustling, rippling, whispering noise.’ Or, if you’re Tiffany, ‘an immediate incursion into your world by another, and time to get out the frying pan.’
Mellifluous. A rich, honeyed, pleasingly musical sound.
Zaftig. A German borrowing, meaning ‘curvaceous and attractive.’ This word was used of me, once, before I knew what it meant, meaning I had to make a quick judgement call as to whether it was an insult or not. (It wasn’t). Sometimes I wonder whether my ignorance had a role to play in the way my life has subsequently developed. Oh, well. No harm.
Palimpsest. A manuscript which bears the faint traces of other, earlier words, either words which have been erased and written over or words which were impressed or embossed upon the parchment through a heavy-handed scribe leaning on another sheet.
Propinquity. A tendency, inclination, or attraction, or the nearness of things to one another.
There are many more, but here I must draw a line for fear of instilling boredom. I’m struck, while compiling this list, how many words I love the sound of begin with the letter ‘p’ and/or end in some version of an ‘s’. Strange, and inexplicable, and rather interesting – at least, to me. Words in all their loveliness please my nerdy little heart. I’ve often meant to compile a proper list of my favourites, and keep adding to it as I learn more – but that’s a job of work for another day, I feel.
Do you have a favourite word, or a Top 10? Frankly, I’ll be less inclined to like you if you don’t. Just saying.