Playing with Words
It was at a Civil War reenactment, I think in Virginia, that I first saw the word Colporteur. I took a picture of it. Then I met the reenactor who actually was the colporteur. His job is colportage. I’ve seen him several times since. He wears a parson’s coat and tie, a hat, and a square muslin bag over his shoulder, like the paperboys in the 50s and 60s wore when peddling their papers. The bag is full of type-set religious tracts in the language of 1860s. Colporteur is a French word for someone who peddles devotional literature. Colportage is the act of peddling them. During the Civil War, evangelists hung around the camps, both Union and Confederate, peddling tracts. Colporteur. Kohl-pawr-ter.
I’ve learned a lot of new words at the reenactments since 2011 when I first started attending them with Avery’s Battlefield. Most of them don’t come up in conversation, but I’ve enjoyed learning them.
What I’ve enjoyed about words in general is how they’ve evolved through history. I love the speech patterns of the Victorians. They had some great words. Everything they say sounds like a complex love sonnet. How about the profound subtleties of the Edwardians? I could soak up their language as easily as sipping tea. I love the wisdom in words passed through oral tradition. The melody and color of the Appalachian speech is delightful. Some of the words seem not to have really been a part of the vernacular but rather a word made up at the moment one was needed. If it worked, it was reused! Reuse it often enough, and voila! It’s vernacular.
When I was a girl there was a TV program called The $64,000 Question. We all learned this great winning word spelled by a 13 year-old girl: antidisestablishmentarianism. We said it as often as we could, and of course no one had a clue what it meant, it was just fun to say. We even jumped rope to it! My children tried to use supercalifragilisticexpialidotious learned from Mary Poppins herself. Recently I discovered chock-a-block is a real word. I might throw that into a novel sometime, just for the fun of writing it. What’s a fun word you’ve discovered? Share it here with other word lovers.