Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Remembering the words of the creative Molly Ivins

There’s a game we like to play at the weekly Toastmasters meeting, 6:15 p.m. Thursdays at Sutton Associates Wealth Management across from Lakeport’s historic Courthouse Square. Somebody brings a vocabulary word and the rest of us try to use it during the course of the meeting. Imagine the flexible and creative thinking that this encourages in us!

I have always been fascinated -- and sometimes amused and intrigued -- by the ways that people use language. People didn’t always appreciate this and some even made fun of me, called me names like “Big Words.” So you can imagine how refreshing it is to be encouraged to increase my vocabulary instead of being treated like using “big words” is a serious detriment.

It was recently my turn to be the Toastmasters grammarian and where better to turn for a word than my favorite columnist Molly Ivins?

For years I read Ivins’ work as a syndicated columnist, published “arthur” and contributor to magazines. And there were several words that I grew to associate with the incomparable Molly Ivins.

“Plangent,” for instance, which Ivins used on at least three occasions -- one time even pointing out how difficult it was to put “plangent” in a newspaper column. It means “sonorous” or “resonant.”

It was tough choosing “plangent” as the Toastmasters grammarian because it beat out some really great words. “Oeuvre” means a work of art or an artist’s collected works. “Bill of Wrongs,” which was published a few months after Ivins’ death, marks the completion of Ivins’ oeuvre.

A “bon mot” is a witty saying. In French, it means “good word.” Ivins’ columns were full of these.

One example of a “bon mot” is my favorite Ivins word. How can you not love “whomperjawed?” Even though -- as far as I know -- there is no recorded definition, the meaning of “whomperjawed” is evident in the vivid picture it suggests.

Ivins was unapologetic about her use of “fancy” words and would tell her readers to look them up.

What a loss to the enrichment of language now that Ivins is no longer with us! To whom can we turn to fill the void? I can think of perhaps one candidate, Lynne Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” The title and cover illustration dramatize how the placement of a comma can change a sentence’s meaning.

One of the magazines that I read, The Progressive, was cast adrift by the death of Ivins, whose monthly column anchored its back page.

After a year of trying out various writers in Ivins’ former spot, The Progressive gave her former place to fellow Texas liberal Jim Hightower. Hightower carries on in Ivins’ crusading spirit but has not, at least to my knowledge, used a word like “whomperjawed.”

Molly Ivins left us Jan. 31, 2007, after a valiant battle against cancer. With Lake County teams participating in this year’s Relay for Life on Saturday, May 17, and with additional teams gearing up for Sponsoring Survivorship later in the year, this column offers plangent tribute to Ivins and her love of “fancy” words.

Published May 13, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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