One of the things you gain in relationships is new lexicon–unless the person grew up with an identical background, region, dialect–family idioms and personal idiosyncrasies all make conversations bloom. E-communication has dumbed down our language. Even ignoring the texting silliness of “u” and “r” and emoticon expression, with hundreds of e-mails to answer, it’s often faster to go with the uncomplicated words.
I’m craving more words like catawampus. This week, when my husband said that everything went all catawampus, I immediately understood his level of frustration. Someone else (me at my most frustrated for example) might have said it was f#%*ed. His word was so much more evocative. He hails from southern Ohio–he also describes me as “cuter than a bug’s ear” which I find ridiculous and very sweet. If incomprehensible. Do bugs have ears? If they did, exactly how cute would they be?
What does catawampus mean? I always figured it meant off-kilter, askew. I picture a literary cross between kitty-cornered (some would say cater-cornered) and a flock of cats in need of herding. Apparently, I’m on the right track. A cat·a·wam·pus can be a fierce animal probably derived from catamount, which is a regionalization for mountain lion. The “wampus” part may have come from the Scots word “wampish,” meaning “to wriggle or twist.” As I googled around, I realized why it was a perfect word for my cat-fancier husband of Scots lineage.
Growing up, we had a word that was unique to our family, courtesy of my mother. When someone had cheated or done you wrong with false information, my mother would say you were misled–pronounced my-zeld. I don’t need to go digging for origins for this one. We were a family of avaricious readers. The result was that there were words on the page that took on peculiar pronunciations when they were spoken. I was probably in high school before I realized that my myzeld was everyone elses’s mislead. I still think it sounds better with the hiss of the z and whack of the d.
All will go catawampus if we are misled by those who say that words don’t matter. What are some of your favorites? I’m with the use ’em or lose ’em camp. Save catawumpus and use it at least once this week … I’ll keep misled for myself.