I’m starting a new series today: Odd Words. I got the idea last night because I was very tired and didn’t feel like writing. So I grabbed a book I bought ages ago but never opened, The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. The book is literally falling part. I’m using its cover as a bookmark. But it’s fascinating.
I like dictionaries. It doesn’t matter if you know the words. We know words more by how they are used than by their definitions. I constantly find myself wishing to use a slightly uncommon word. But then I wonder, “Is this what I mean?” So I look it up. And in almost all cases, I’m using the word perfectly. But it’s always a joy to see the odd words laid out so simply — so directly.
Words I Don’t Know: Abiogenesis
But I found something interesting on the first page of the Everyday Reader’s Dictionary. Of the 20 words, there were 5 that I didn’t know at all. And I learned new things about words I did know. For example, did you know that abalone is a kind of snail? Abalone is very popular here in northern California. The smell of it alone, makes me sick, so I’ve never tasted it. But I am looking forward to asking people the next time I find myself around it, “How are you enjoying your snail?”
Today’s word is “abiogenesis.”
1. generation of living organisms from inanimate matter, as the laboratory creation of a virus from a complex protein molecule.
Date: circa 1870.
Origin: not (a-) life (bio) generated (genesis).
Example: With that in mind, can scientists reproduce the conditions of earth where abiogenesis began and successfully create these self-replicating peptides? —EvolutionFAQ
Now before anyone says it: yes, I could have pieced that word together. As a matter of fact, I’ve got to have been exposed to it, because certainly Carl Sagan must have mentioned it in The Dragons of Eden. But the truth is that I’ve never had a huge vocabulary. Nor do I want one. After you get past about 50,000 words, you’re in “types of fish” territory.
So if you already know words that come up in this category, good for you! But don’t scoff or feel too proud. You’ll just look small. And if you’re very nasty, I’ll give you a differential equation to solve!