When I was in high school, I kept a notebook of words. In it I noted terms that I liked, as well as those that stumped me because I didn’t know initially how to spell them, or what they meant. The following terms sort of belong under those categories.
1 mellifluos — sweet-sounding, mellow, pleasingly smooth
Have you heard the song “The Girl from Ipanema?” Astrud Gilberto will make you want to listen to her rendition of that song over and over — and over — again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1uEy-n4IsU
2 stracciatella – shredded or ripped
When you pronounce this Italian word, be sure to raise your tone on the second to the last syllable: strat/tchah/TEHL/lah ! Tourists know this best as a type of ice cream, the shreds being pieces of chocolate.
Stracciatella can also be a broth to which beaten eggs and shredded parmesan are added, thus:
3 tack – “Thank you” in Svenska… Swedish, that is.
Now, see how easy it is to express your appreciation in several languages:
German danke, English thank you, Danish tak, Tok Pisin tankyu.
Hah! Did that last one throw you off? Tok Pisin is an English-based Creole language spoken in Papua New Guinea. Most Creole languages have close similarities to the “mother language” but the spelling may be odd or crazy, depending on how you look at it.
4 tzatziki – say tsäˈtsēkē. One more time: tsäˈtsēkē.
Sounds Russkie, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s Greek, the name for a sauce served with grilled meats or as a dip.
5 tintinnabulation – the ringing or sound of bells; a word invented by Edgar Allan Poe.
I was 14 years old, a junior in high school, and a member of the speech choir. Our teacher made us memorize “The Bells,” a loooooooooog poem which we had to recite on stage on Parents’ Day. In the process, we also discovered onnomatopoeia, a word that phoneticallyimitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Examples, jingling, tingling, swinging, ringing, tolling… of the bells! Bells! Bells…
6 Humuhumunukunukuapua’a – A tropical reef trigger fish; Hawaii’s state fish
Tour guides in Oahu or, in our case, a cruise ship visiting the five islands, will not fail to introduce you to “this gigantic word that starts with H and has a bazillion letters.” It’s intimidating, but do try to pronounce it:
who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah. Now try to sing it with Don Ho; click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWlvYpJ5pRo
7 egusi – melon seeds; used in West African cooking
Oh, the joys of being an international student. I was introduced to egusi soup by Nigerian friends while I was in grad school. The soup ingredients include leaf vegetables such as spinach and other local greens, seasonings, meat, and egusi. A machine has been invented to shell the melon seeds.
8 tempura = seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried
Japanese, yes? Although it sounds like sakura (cherry blossom), and Kamakura (a city about 50 miles from Tokyo), tempura has its roots in the Romance languages, specifically Portuguese.
There are two theories as to the root of this word. One says that it comes from tempêro, meaning seasoning, taste.
The other theory, which I find more acceptable, suggests that the root word is tempora, a Latin word meaning “times” or “period.” Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki referred to periods when meat consumption was forbidden as “tempora.”.
9 copacetic = very satisfactory
When someone tells you, “Everything is copacetic,” you need not worry; it’s OK, no problemo! I first heard this word on a sorta literary program on National Public Radio. The host discussed interesting words, their origins, variants, and all. I miss the program; I don’t know if the host passed away and was irreplaceable.
10 smooth = an adjective of many meanings and applications:
calm, glassy, unwrinkled, free from roughness, polished, agreeable, pleasant, not harsh
That’s all, folks! Write me your list of favorite words. I might want to add it to my notebook.