Monday, March 15, 2010

The Halcyon Days of Cameo's Youth?

Nice "On Language" column in the NYT Magazine this past Sunday, by Ammon Shea, titled "Vocabulary Size: It's Not Everything." His first sentence reads, "Trying to convince speakers of English that they need to expand their vocabularies is one of the oldest strategies for selling word books." Then today I got a copy of 1001 Words You Need to Know and Use. (As noted by Mr. V, Oxford UP sometimes sends the minions books for review.) What I liked about that "On Lg" column was the discussion of the promises these books make, so I was curious to see what 1001 Words would promise. Well, the subtitle is "An A-Z of Effective Vocabulary," so I guess it'll make you effective. But the flier that came with it is all focused on getting a job. "So how does one ... compete in this extremely competitive current job market? For starters they can make sure they speak the same language as the people that are most successful." And then the author "takes readers through the most important vocabulary to use in job applications, presentations, CVs, proposals, essays, reports, or any situation in which one needs to be as articulate and professional as possible."

I actually have no problem with this — what the hell — it can't hurt. And it's fun to learn crazy ass new words.

Although ... I opened to a random page and my eye fell on ... "halcyon." A word I only know in the fixed phrase "the halcyon days of my youth." And I learned that "the adjective derives from the noun sense referring to a mythical bird said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and waves into calm." Well. Wikipedia, the source of all truth, explains it a little more thoroughly as part of the myth of Alcyone, which I won't go into, but which you can read about here. And then the coolest part of the entry for "halcyon" (in 1001 Words) is the example: "the halcyon days when profits were soaring."

So who knows. Maybe tomorrow I'll try to use "halcyon" in a memo. Take that, intransigent Deans!


John said...

What a delightful piece, Mr Verb! It's always a pleasure to read the morsels you manage to conjure up and comment on.
You're right though: 'halcyon' always collocates with 'days' in my mind. But it seems a tragedy that it's linked to filthy lucre and the 'bottom line'.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, John, but the nice post was from Team Verb member Monica, not me.

In fact, most of the recent posts have been by other Team members, I'm happy to say.