On losing good words.


“I just lost ‘troglodyte.'”


“It was probably my favorite insult back in high school.  I’d, like, you know how people make fun of people for reading the dictionary?  I never did that, but I’d read through the thesaurus during English class, and that one was in the list for ‘idiot.’ ”


“But, right, if you learn words from the thesaurus it turns out you don’t know why they mean what they do.  Like I’d grown up thinking the dictionary was how you looked up those words for the spelling test, and I didn’t realize the best part was the etymologies.”

“Oh, okay.  You’re upset that ‘troglodyte’ is for black people?”

“Yeah, I mean, isn’t that scummy?  And it sounded so good.”

“Well, you could claim that you’re using it because of, like, scientific naming.  Because the genus species for chimpanzee is Pan troglodytes.  Although maybe that makes it even worse, because the classification implies that black people aren’t just risible, they also look like monkeys.”

“Somehow I’m guessing that won’t sound much more enlightened.”

“I know.  So maybe you’ve lost it.  But it happens to everyone.  Like, one of mine… I always thought ‘pillow biter’ had such a good ring to it.  In retrospect, I don’t know what was going on, like, that phrase even being in a book that I read as a kid.  But I liked the sound, and I must have said it to a lot of other kids before I ever understood what it meant.”


“Or ‘towel head.’  Like, my roommate came out from the shower once, she looked ridiculous and I just blurted it out.  We both laughed until we realized, like…”

“Yeah.  Shit-heads out there ruining so many good words.”