Expressions sure to impress

24th September 2004 at 01:00
I recently bought a wonderful book called The Superior Person's Book of Words by Peter Bowler. It contains 500 or so words that, for sometimes obvious reasons, have fallen out of everyday use. Words such as "formicate" which, apparently, is a verb meaning to swarm like ants. Or "peen" which is the thin end of a hammer head.

This set me thinking. You know those occasions when there doesn't seem to be a word that perfectly and precisely meets your needs, when someone, perhaps the head, says something that puts you in your place and you want to come back with something that makes you sound as if you know what you are talking about? Suppose you had a word that put you in charge of the direction, or termination, of the conversation. It would be a bit like the emperor's new clothes, and no one, not even the head, would dare challenge you, given your obvious grasp of language.

"Parisology" is the deliberate pursuit of ambiguity in one's use of language. So when someone from the Department for Education and Skills asks how their circulars have been received in the staffroom, an honest reply would be: "We note the determination of your department to press forward in its target to achieve complete parisology, which we fully support." Imagine the self-satisfied expressions in their office at the praise you have heaped upon them.

Take "gride" (to scrape, scratch or cut with a sound that grates upon the ears). It could be used to describe the sound of fingernails drawn across the blackboard. But it could equally be applied to Year 1 music or a speech made by any education secretary. "Your speech had a real sense of gride, Secretary." "Thank you, underling."

How handy this newly discovered lexicon would be when writing reports to those parents who love to find a reason to criticise the staff, often by complaining that "standards have slipped since I was at school; teachers can't even spell properly now".

Now you have the perfect tool to impress and disarm in one carefully crafted sentence. Here is a selection of words to use in your end-of-term reports: contraindicated (inadvisable), coruscate (sparkle, twinkle, flash, glitter), palinoia (the compulsive repetition of an act), etiolated (pale and drawn) and ataxy (the disturbance of bodily functions).

"Tristian has moved on greatly this year and is much more focused now that he has gained more control of his ataxy. He really is beginning to coruscate more and more, and loves to show palinoia in numeracy. There is little evidence of him being as etiolated as he was in Year 1 and he has gained many friends since he has desisted from contraindicated acts during break time. Keep it up!"

Denis King

Denis King teaches at Costessey junior school, Norwich

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