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Growing up with a linguistic expert,
who couldn't spell

08/28/08

I love words.

Which is good because, frankly, they pay my bills.

I believe my fascination with the English language came from my Dad, who had a vocabulary just under that of the late William F. Buckley, and turned our evening meals into English lessons.

I knew how to use the words “amortize” and “facetious” before I could read, and I haven’t used a double negative in a sentence since an incident at the dinner table when I was six that is still not spoken of.

I’m not bragging. It’s just the price you paid for nightly dinners with Bob Hamilton.

On the other hand, Dad couldn’t spell and I suspect he was always grateful his first name was Bob.

I can spell better than a savant at an international spelling bee because my sixth grade English teacher was Mrs. Mozelle Sullivan, and if you know her you’ll understand why.

Dad was always proud of me for that, as well as the fact that I could pick up large items with my toes. Being the youngest of five kids, I took whatever adoration came my way.

The reason I bring this up is because my sister, Kellie, called me Monday morning from Georgia and was filling me in on her weekend.

In the course of the conversation she described the events of the weekend as “discombobulated.”

To which I responded, “Is that a word?” She couldn’t remember if she made it up or heard it somewhere.

In fact, it is a real word and thus began hell week in Kari’s mind.

I looked the word up and called Kellie back to tell her that discombobulated was not a word she made up because Webster beat her to it.

Discombobulate means to throw into a state of confusion, and in our family could have been used to described our nightly “hooked on phonics” dinner meetings.

By Monday evening, I realized that the word had sunk into the depths of my brain much like when you hear somebody hum the first few bars of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” which causes you to sing it in your head for days.

I hate that.

And I hate that the word discombobulate has haunted me like a dead great aunt who wants to tell me she doesn’t like my choice of curtains in the dining room.

But it has, and I am hoping this column will exorcise that demon.

I was attempting to start my lawn mower that night when the word came back to the front of my brain.

The lawn mower wouldn’t start, which was discombobulating.

Later that night, I vacuumed with the word, cooked dinner with it, and did laundry and ironed with it.

I emailed Kellie, asking her to lift the word curse, and never heard a word back from that cruel, cruel woman.

So I called her answering machine when she wasn’t home and hummed all the verses to Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Ha.

I went to bed that night wondering if Dad knew that word. I think he did but he never used it because he didn’t want to discombobulate anyone.

And I bet he couldn’t spell it, either.