Generally when I would encounter a word I didn't know I would ask my dad or my mom what it meant. Later, after I got to public school, I would look words up in a dictionary instead of asking.
However, somewhere along the way I got lazy. Not every time, but often I would just intuit from the use what the word meant. This could sometimes lead to some embarrassing moments, such as the year or so I pronounced the world 'misled' as MY-zilled. I had correctly assumed the definition, but because I had never looked it up I did not realize it was MISS-led. Yeah, that was uncomfortable when I used it in conversation with another high school student who was not about to let that one pass without duly humiliating me. (No, I did not beat the guy to a pulp. I was too embarrassed to even consider punching him in the face.)
After that I tended to not be quite so arrogant and would look up words that mystified me, or which I grudgingly suspected I might have misinterpreted.
All except one word:
I think I first encountered it when I started reading fantasy and horror around the time I was nine or ten years old. Perhaps I first saw it in a book dealing with creepy undead or some Lovecraftian critters. Maybe even Bradbury, whose work I started reading when I was eight years old. But wherever it was, I found the word so strange that I wasn't even going to bother looking for the definition. I went back to trying to discern the meaning from the context. This went on--quite actually--for about five decades.
That's right. I bumped into the word now and again from about the time of my eighth or ninth birthday (let's say) until this past week, only a month or so from my sixtieth birthday. And now I know what it means. And the only reason I know what it means is that the word was used on an educational sign in the Fort Pickens Museum at Gulf Shores National Seashore. It was informing visitors how to deal with biting insects, and later describing mosquitoes and such vermin as 'crepuscular', going on to define the word as 'things that are most active at dusk, or twilight '. I turned to my wife who was also looking at the sign and said, "Damn! I finally know what that fucking word means!"
Well, I'll be dipped in dogshit.
There it was.
And I'd never gotten it right, having always interpreted it as to mean, somehow, that something or someone was corrupt in some manner.
Five decades of stubborn arrogance.
Well, at least I was always pronouncing it correctly in my mind, even if I never used the word in conversation or in my prose.
Thank Jove for that, at least.
|There is also the use of the word referring to fading sunlight. It could be that I first encountered it in that context. (But I couldn't resist being a lout over the word by producing a smartass meme.)|