• Word of the Day

    By Tamara Hellgren

    I didn’t create the Criterion office’s word-of-the-day bulletin board, but I’m the latest logophile to carry the torch, er, dry-erase marker and update the white board in the kitchen. Occasionally someone will ask me what a certain word means (psocid was particularly popular), but for the most part I just write one each morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to brew and imagine that it’s quietly fomenting an atmosphere of word appreciation throughout the day.

    I often get the word of the day from one of the countless scraps littering my purse: words discovered while reading and compulsively scribbled on the back of bookmarks, receipts, Netflix envelopes, or gum wrappers. Some are only suitable for the Urban Dictionary (um, deekis?), but many (especially if I’m reading Cormac McCarthy) find their way to the board later on. For a peek at the dense and violent verbal jungle of Blood Meridian, or simply a preview of some words of the day to come, here are the latest bookmark scrawlings: suzerain, ciborium, groundsel, argosy, esker.

    It was Michael in editorial who caught on to my favorite word-harvesting technique: lifting them from the essays written for our DVD booklets. When John Simon’s essay for Sawdust and Tinsel was making the proofing rounds, adumbrate and etiolated (words Michael had also noticed) appeared on the white board soon after. Luc Sante’s “My Lost City,” for Stranger Than Paradise, was another treasure trove of great words: glassine, souk, dipsomaniac, and apotheosis, to name a few. Even just this week, when reading an older essay (Peter Cowie on The Seventh Seal), I jotted down louring for future reference. Cleaning off my desk always turns up at least a half dozen crinkled Post-it notes that at first glance may read like an incantation: boreal, pandect, superjacent, jeremiad. But if reading them can conjure up a desire to sit down and watch the film they described, perhaps that impression isn’t too far off the mark.

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