Friday, May 22, 2009

Because reading this made me laugh out loud on the train to work today and also made me smarter.

Douglas clicks pause on his word game to give us some nuggets. "Well everyone's heard of antonyms and synonyms. But there's also capitonyms. That's when the meaning of the word changes according to whether it starts with a capital letter."

I'm not understanding.

"Like Herb and herb," says Douglas, "or Polish and polish."

"I never knew that," my father says.

"Good for you, Douglas," says Grandpa.

It's true. That's a damn good fact. I decide I better try to match my eleven year-old cousin. I search my mental file for some English language trivia.

"Did you know, in Old English, the gh in the word 'light' was not silent? And in some areas of Scotland, they still pronounce it licht."

No one seems particularly blown away by my brichtness.

"Also, there's something called miranyms," continues Douglas, unfazed "That's the word in between two opposites."

The adults around the table are confused.

"Like when you have 'convex' and 'concave', the miranym is 'flat'," says Douglas patiently.

"Or with 'hot' and 'cold', the miranym is 'room temperature'," continues Douglas.

"Well, on behalf of myself, I find that very unique," I say. I've decided to switch my strategy. I won't compete with Douglas on facts; I'll drive him nuts by mauling his beloved English language. Mature, I know.

"What is the longest word you know in the English language?" Douglas challenges me.

"'Smiles'," I say. "Because there's a mile between the first and the last letter."

Backed into a corner, I had whipped out a joke I learned when I was Douglas's age. Douglas shakes his head.

"What about 'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis'."

I've got to give it to him. He knows his English.

- An excerpt from "The Know-it-all" by A.J. Jacobs

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Female. Singaporean
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