Most everyone has a teacher or two who made a lifelong impression because of what he or she taught, how he or she taught, or how he or she made an extra effort to encourage your younger self. For me, the two teachers who made a lasting impression were both English teachers.
The few school papers I have saved and packed around over a lifetime of moves do not include any math or science tests. The faded mementoes only include papers and projects from junior high and high school English classes (and one very important seventh-grade “Montana History” notebook).
Mrs. Dickensheets was my seventh-grade English teacher. She taught me to love and appreciate words. In a notebook for her class that was simply titled “Words,” I am amused with my Feb. 20, 1963, writing about “Why Should I Increase My Vocabulary?”
Among other reasons — including for future jobs, better speaking, understanding other people and understanding words when reading — I wrote: “Some people like to write, but people do not enjoy reading unless the book or whatever it may be is interesting, descriptive, and intriguing. If you do like to write, different words are necessary.”
Still today, there are words that intrigue me. Sometimes I want to use them in this column, but they just have not found a place (yet). To give them honor, here are just a few of the many words that deserve to be used: Kismet. Egalitarian. Inexorable. Acrimonious. Sanguine. Ergo. Aberration. Then, from my seventh-grade “Words with a Colorful History” chapter: assassin (Arabian hashishin: eaters of hashish); chagrin (Turkish saghri: rump of a horse, then anything that rubbed and gave you goose flesh, then humiliated); gossamer (Middle English gossumer: people ate geese in goose summer when they noticed fine, filmy spider webs and named them gossamer — delicate, sheer).
In Montana history class, we had to learn the names of all the counties. For extra credit, I wrote a story and used every county name in it (Judith Basin was easy; Meagher — pronounced Marr — not so much). Miss Dahl (she taught my mother and siblings, so had been around a long time — almost Montana history herself) turned the story into a class exercise where the county names were left blank for classmates to fill in. I’ve thought of that paper when I want to use multiple curious words all in one column.
Once in my legal career, which included poring over medical documents, I learned words I had never heard before and scarcely knew how to pronounce. First among those were: encephalopathy, radiculopathy, afebrile, syncope, certiorari, duces tecum, inter alia.
With a supervising attorney who fashioned himself as a wordsmith, he was quick to correct mispronunciations, and I became his junior protégé. A couple of the mispronunciations that he corrected stand out in my memory: Wimbledon, not Wimbleton. Down the pike, not down the pipe. Doesn’t jibe, not doesn’t jive.
My last sentence in 1963 “Words:” “These are my opinions on why I should try to increase my vocabulary.” (“I” and “my” were double-underlined.) So, if you, reader, have an interesting word you would like me to try to use in my column, send it along! I look forward to increasing my vocabulary.
Follow-up: The 1952 “Old Yeller” Chevrolet truck with a “Methow pedigree” pictured in a September 2020 column has been sold and now has a new home, according to Craig McDonald.