Sunday, October 16, 2011

epiphany, scintilla, gambol, mondegreen

Does every writer have a love of language? Or are there writers that just write, without any thought of the beauty of the individual word? I love the sound of some words.


My parents were both Methodist ministers, so this word first existed in my life as a day in January on which Christians celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God. Throughout my childhood, we listened to the recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, the opera that tells the story of a young boy whose home is visited by the three kings who are following the star to the manger where the baby Jesus waits. It was so exciting to imagine each scene as it unfolded.

Later, the word took on a broader meaning for me as I began to read the great authors and noticed that main characters in novels often had an epiphany that would change the course of the story and/or would signal some change in a person's willingness to continue on an existing path. I can remember thinking that I had a choice about each step in my life.

But I love the word most because of the way it sounds in its spoken form. It is an elegant word and one that would typically only be known to someone with some education. Hearing someone use the word would signal to the listener that the speaker was in touch with a thought process that existed slightly above the fray of daily living. I love that moment in conversation with a new acquaintance when it becomes clear to me that the person is a thinker and a reader.


Courtroom dramas often feature someone uttering the phrase "without a shred of evidence". The first time I heard the phrase "without a scintilla of evidence", I instantly understood the meaning. It made me smile, because I love coming into contact with a new word. I often do acrostic puzzles and I love it when this word is included.

Scintilla feels like a feminine word to me because it sounds curvy. So it's appropriate that one of the X-Men female characters is named Scintilla. You won't have heard of her unless you are a comic book reader or collector. Scintilla had the power to shrink herself, which came in handy during battle. (Where'd she go?) She served as a member of the Imperial Guard in the Shi'ar Empire.

I-Scintilla is a band out of Chicago, Illinois that offers up a driving beat and loud guitar riffs, coupled with a gyrating female vocalist who is prone to heavy make-up and tight clothing - just the thing for young males who enjoy listening to electric-techno-rock. I am NOT a fan of this genre of music, but even I have to admit the appeal of Prey On You, the lyrics of which sketch the story of a leader who leads with lies. I wonder who ...


I can't decide whether this word sounds like it is moving because I already know the meaning or whether it is similar in nature to words like gallop or cruise or tumble, which each sound like the movements they describe. The image that comes to mind when I hear this word is that of a grown person skipping & dancing about in a merry fashion, without a care in the world and without a single worry about how he looks or how he is being perceived. I fairly hear the "la-la-la" singing that must accompany the movements.

But of course there is more. Gambol was also a powerful character in the Batman comic series. He was a crime lord in Gotham City, leader of a Black mob. You may remember Gambol as the character who the Joker holds a knife to as he tells the "why so serious" story, explaining how he got the scars around his mouth that create his signature grimacing smile. EEK!

Gambol is also a lesser known game application for the iPhone or iPad which features a ball-shaped critter navigating courses and obstacles. It is similar to Sonic the Hedgehog, but not nearly as awesome in my opinion! It has not achieved the fame of Angry Birds, for instance. Chances are you haven't even heard of it!


And now we get to my favorite word, although it isn't the actual word that appeals to me this time. This word doesn't trip off the tongue like the previous three words do. It is the meaning of the word that carries the delight for me. It describes a word or phrase that is misheard, often to comic delight. The origin is from a 1954 essay written by American writer Sylvia Wright, who coined the term based on a poem she had misheard as a young girl. When her mother read her the poem, which featured the phrase "and laid him on the green", she heard "and Lady Mondegreen". So she proposed this new word to describe situations in which we mishear poetic verse, which later included song lyrics.

One of the most famous lyrical examples of which you will no doubt be aware is from the song "Blinded by the Light", which features the phrase "revved up like a deuce", which has famously been misheard as "wrapped up like a douche". I absolutely remember sitting with friends, playing that part of the song over and over again, discussing it and giggling. Then there was also the famous Jimmy Hendrix lyric that was misheard by so many. He sang "excuse me while I kiss the sky" and many people heard "scuze me, while I kiss this guy".

There are so many other words that I love, but I will stop here. What are your favorite words? Why?

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