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Sesquipedalian ruminations (or, thinking about long words)

It appears to be human nature to have a fascination with long or strange words. Most people, if you care to ask them about it, have a handful of words that they consider to be favorites, and very rarely is it that anyone admits that their favorite word is ‘kite’ or ‘plant’. Rather, the words cited generally are big and impressive specimens such as defenestrate, schadenfreude, or sesquipedalian.

While not seeking to discount the pleasure that can come from collecting these polysyllabic creatures, it should be pointed out that while these words do have admirable length and obscurity, they also tend to be uniformly monosemous – they have but a single meaning.

Philoprogenitive (showing love toward your children) is the sort of word that someone might collect as a favorite word – but why doesn’t anyone ever say that they’ve decided to collect all the different meanings of the word ‘make’? It is a short word, but it is also extraordinarily rich in meaning, with dozens and dozens of shades of nuance defined in Oxford Dictionaries Online.

It may seem as though it will sound impressive to people if your favorite word is eucatastrophe (a happy ending to a story), but imagine how much richer your grasp of the English language would be if  you set aside an hour or two, set yourself down and set to setting in your memory the senses and definitions of that deceptively simple set of three letters that quite possibly has more meanings than any other word in our language – set.

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