This is going to be a short tidbit while my really
annoying adorable dogs are sleeping at my feet. I came across a word I’d never heard of before in a Father Brown mystery: asseverate. It caught me up short because it looked like a word I should know. It is obviously of Latin derivation; sever or severe appeared to be the root, but in the context a man “asseverated” that he didn’t know something. I couldn’t make sense of those potential Latin roots with the context being used in the story.
When I looked it up, I realized the meaning should have been obvious: to assert with force (hence, “severe” as the root). The word, however, is so rarely used that Merriam-Webster gave as an example the very Chesterton passage I had just read. The word dates to the 17th C, so it isn’t new, just not often chosen.
The Merriam-Webster entry has a story in its entry, about Elmore Leonard reading the word in a Mary McCarthy book. He, too, had to look it up. The interpretation of the Leonard story was to demonstrate that only those who want to show off their vocabulary would use such a word. At least I’m in good company with my ignorance. It seems Ms. McCarthy was perhaps not in bad company when she used the word asseverated instead of the more ordinary said (Chesterton is clearly good company, too); she is simply in a group so small it hardly exists. Whether she was trying to show off is not for me to say. I’ve never actually read McCarthy’s books.
I don’t think it’s bragging to claim I have a vocabulary better than 97% of the population. I could go with 99% because it’s probably true, but that might actually be bragging. In any case, I just added to it, though I doubt I will use it any time soon. I use vocabulary in a fluid sense when I write and speak — whatever comes to mind. That word would be a definite challenge to use in any way that wasn’t artificial and/or didn’t seem to others that I was trying to show off. I care little about the latter, having often said offhand things I found ordinary, to be met with that cult of stupidity smugness of “[eyeroll] I don’t listen to people who use words with more than two syllables.” One time, I casually remarked that syllables has three…do they no longer listen to themselves? I was met with more smug eyerolling.
It’s always good to learn something new, though. What’s life without a few good extra words to pack around?