On the first day of fourth grade we walked into the classroom and found the word DIARRHEA (n.) scrawled in the upper corner of an otherwise-empty blackboard. We would have laughed more readily but the double-r-plus-h didn’t visually resonate with the actual spoken word and therefore didn’t cue our potty humor radar as it should’ve.
Our white-haired teacher, Mr. Palmer, had a habit of touching his fingertips together and rocking back and forth on his heels like a river reed. He was also an extraordinarily good Language Arts teacher. I don’t mean that he was dynamic, the way teachers today are forced to use bro-ish charisma and pop culture to befriend their students and trick them into learning. Mr. Palmer was just good.
We knew that kicking off vocabulary lessons with the abject was a shtick—there’s always something contrived about an adult using poop jokes to appeal to kids—but it was an interesting shtick. Especially since the chalked word—diarrhea—is strangely beautiful when written, much like other visually-appealing words that invite cognitive dissonance: procrustean, Chevrolet, vaccine.
More than my journals or bookshelf, my iPhone apps are probably the best evidence of the word nerdishness which has lasted into my adulthood. Dictionary.com app sends me notifications with the word of the day (yesterday’s word, hsien, I “favorited” to remember later). The New York Times Crossword app also buzzes me when new puzzles are available. When I was preparing to take the GRE, I downloaded the Kaplan GRE Vocabulary app and I still haven’t deleted it although the test was two months ago.
And I should probably include the literary apps, like B-Rhymes (the slant-rhyme dictionary), Poetry (the randomized poem spin wheel from The Poetry Foundation), [The Complete] Shakespeare, or Verse Daily (which is not technically an app, but that I saved to my home screen for daily access).
…I won’t take the time to elaborate on nerdy science apps, which are a whole essay unto themselves.
I was one of the more disdainful students toward excremental humor; even so, I never missed an SAT word that began with dia–, through, or failed to see the connection between rhein (“to flow”), the river Rhine and the word rhythm—rhythmos—the pattern and flow of a song.
At the top: some of my recently fav’d words in the Dictionary app. (Secondary advertising for Gilt is unintentional.)