It’s only words

My catawampus friends

As a writer I love words. The more obscure the better. The sillier sounding the more fun. I like the ones with multiple syllables that have a melody to them.

When I first hear them I try to work them into my everyday vocabulary. This obsession started at a very young age. I can remember confessing adultery to the priest when I was around seven. I had no idea what it meant but it made adults giggle. (That priest had a good story for his poker game!)

Eventually I learned to understand the meaning fully before using words. (Also the fact that adults giggle didn’t mean I wouldn’t get a wallop from my mom).

The first time I heard gob smacked I was gob smacked! It is a perfect word. People’s ears perked up (a lot like Spock on Star Trek). It means utterly astonished. I started using it but it’s not a frequent flyer word. If you use it too much you are always utterly astonished and it holds no allure.

(Note that swear words were originally invented to add emphasis on a mood or comment. The use of them as every fourth word in a sentence totally dilutes the meaning. Did you hear me movie screenwriters? It’s like too many exclamation points.)

I still use “gob smacked” and I have “boogers” for a less traumatic astonishment. (Boogers is not something that comes from the nose. It’s usually the first “bad word” that a young boy learns that makes his parent giggle. I love young boys. They know how to push the envelope. I never could do proper fart sounds with my armpit.)

This past weekend I learned a new word. Catawampus (alternate spelling katywampus). I knew what it meant by the way it was used in a sentence. That is the sign of a good word. If you have to look it up in a dictionary (or google), the word loses its power to well…gob smack.

Since you don’t have the full conversation, I’ll give you the meaning.

“Off kilter or not centered; crooked”

The conversation was about hanging pictures on the wall and other home decorating techniques. My friend classified their style as catawampus. I’ve been in their house. It’s not catawampus (which has a bit of a negative feel to it). It looks fully orchestrated (another great word) but asymmetrical (dang I’m on a roll).

The true meaning doesn’t describe their house but I don’t care. I learned a new word that again will be very difficult to work into my everyday conversations.

I have some friends who are catawampus. That’s a start.

This post is for Louise and Fred, my catawampus friends. (There is no negative feel here. More asymmetrical.)

74 thoughts on “It’s only words

  1. I have used the word catawampus all my life. I’m sure it started with my parents. I’ve never written it before, though, and wouldn’t have been sure how to spell it! LOL! I love these weird words and use many of them, to the amusement of my granddaughters. 🙂

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  2. I like gob smacked! I had toyed with the idea of opening my daily chats up to word suggestions…But I don’t know that I want to challenge myself that much. It’s a challenge already to come up with something daily! But gob smacked… that may just work its way in one day.

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  3. I love that word and I never heard it before today. My boss is a collector of unique words and phrases – I one time got him a subscription to Evan Morris “The Word Detective” which was a newsletter full of unique words. It wasn’t expensive to subscribe and he sent me a copy as well for signing Robb up. My boss Robb gets hold of a new word and has to use it over and over again – I see the word “kerfuffle” in his e-mails, as well as memos and letters – he needs to give it a rest and get a new word. 🙂 Anyway, Evan Morris no longer publishes his newsletter due to health issues, but a ton of fun words and their meaning is found at his blog:

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      • My boss Robb uses flash cards to memorize the words. He writes the word on one side, and how to pronounce the word and its definition on the other side. I told him about Merriam-Webster online and their pronunciation audio and a little story about the word and he got a kick out of that. So he tries to memorize them. That may sound weird, but my boss had two brothers close in age to him … he was the oldest. Their father was an attorney and he had a set of the “Oxford English Dictionary” at his office. Robb had a set at our office too … over-sized volumes and each volume represents a letter, except “X, Y & Z” are in one volume. The father brought made the boys memorize a page of words a day and he’d quiz them on the words … he was a very strict and unbending taskmaster, not very kind to the boys (who adored their mother). They were so afraid he’d ask a word they didn’t know, that they huddled over the page and memorized each word. Each of them are now wordsmiths. I e-mailed Robb this list and he got a kick out of it. I knew a lot of these words, their goal is to have you use more of them:

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  4. My mother used katywampus when I was a kid. Usually to describe the state of my room, I think.

    Terpsichorean is probably my favorite polysyllabic word (it means “related to dancing”). Or perhaps anthropomorphize…something I do to my animals daily.

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  5. I love interesting words too! Endoplasmic reticulum is a favorite, although it’s very hard to insert it into normal everyday conversations 🙂 I’ve used katywampus many times but I have never heard of catawampus (maybe it’s a regional thing). As I get older, my go-to word has become “thingamajig” since I can’t remember much of what I’m talking about.

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  6. I love silly words. Catawampus is usually a southern term. I like the words galumphy and onomatopoeia. Speaking of cats, my brother used to have a cat named Mooch. I like that word, too. My husband loves the Italian words and phrases my family uses, but they are more fun with the hand movements that come along with them. 😉

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  7. You are a true lover of words. It’s so much fun to play with words, and you are a master at it. I heard gob smacked from English friends and only recently heard Americans use it.

    Neighbor Logan has a talent for making fart noises with his armpit, as well as with a hand behind his knee. I think you might be impressed or retro-envious.

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  8. “It is one of Our favorite words!” says RC Cat.
    It’s so nice to hear and romp with words – schools used to do what with students, but now it’s all about multiple choice (silently read) and data…
    My mom used to use catawampus all the time – especially when making sure pictures were hanging straight or garments/hems she was sewing.
    As you mentioned words used sparingly have more power. Used to be curse words first were reserved for high emotion ( and usually physical pain), or adults said use of those words indicated a weak mind/argument and lack of intelligence as that’s all they could come up with….then cursing of course were used to shock by teens and college kids…who I guess grew up to write tv and movie scripts and never moved on with vocabulary because it was never taught – and cursing is so much easier to shock and get a reaction….only now so common they are yawn?
    Circled back to weak minds and lack of ability?

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  9. There are so many words like catawampus that I know…or at least know when I hear or see them. But, in my everyday life never use them. Too bad! It gives me consternation.

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  10. LOL! I have heard that word before but forgot it, thanks for reminding me and I love the pic of your friends looking so happy!
    I can just imagine you making the priest laugh at the innocent age of 7 with your new word!
    So totally agree with you about your note to movie producers. It’s so annoying!! Ruins the movie for me.

    Liked by 2 people

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