It is interesting to me to think that I can remember the circumstances surrounding the first time I heard certain words as I was growing up. I am speaking about random words that we come across and bank in our vocabulary vault while learning our mother tongue and improving upon how we speak our own specific language.
For instance, I remember the first time I heard the word “incorrigible.” I was in my early 20s and a guy was describing his cat to me as being “incorrigible.” I did not know the definition of this word — back then, we could not just simply Google a word. So, when I got home later, I pulled out my dictionary from the bookcase and read its meaning: “a person or their behavior not able to be changed or reformed.” That exactly describes a cat. No matter how many times you tell your cat to get his rear-end off your laptop keyboard, all the more his rear-end ends up on your laptop keyboard. It is because cats are, undeniably, incorrigible — and to this day, I still use this word “incorrigible” to describe cats!
Another time that I can remember first learning a word was when I was in the second grade. In class, we were reading a story in our reader about a Native American boy who was running ever so “swiftly.” There he was in the picture, running on a mountain path. His long black hair was blowing in the wind as though he was, indeed, moving very fast. And so, today, each time I use this word “swiftly,” I think of that little boy — running as swiftly as the wind.
Another example: I have a very clear first memory of using the word “blurry.” I was four years old. We lived in a small wooden house on Prospect Street in Sarasota, Florida for about a year in the early 1960s. It had a screened-in front porch and a luscious backyard filled with ripe oranges and fragrant flowers. There was a palm tree, too, and a squirrel that liked to chatter and scamper up and down its trunk. I would call out to the squirrel like the way I had heard older kids calling dogs. My method, in attempting to entice this squirrel, was to crouch down at the base of his tree, and rub my little fingers and thumb together as though I had food for him. I would look up and sweetly implore him, “Here, Puppy, Puppy, Puppy,” but he would just ignore me. Apparently, I had not known the difference between squirrels and puppies!
During that summer in Sarasota, I had a favorite flowered dress. The flowers printed on the fabric were not clearly arranged in a outlined pattern, distinguishable from each other. Rather, the flowers appeared to be smeared together, similarly to what one would find in an impressionist style painting — like Claude Monet’s blurry lily pads floating, side by side, in a pond. So, appropriately, I called this my “blurry dress.” I am not certain about how I knew this word, initially. Maybe I knew it from experiencing blurry eyes and then equated that to the out-of-focus flowers on my dress. But, however I had arrived at this word at that age, I still associate the word “blurry” to my favorite flowered Sarasota summer dress.
“Blurry,” “swiftly,” and “incorrigible” — Do you remember where you were when you first heard a certain word in your language?