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It is SO a normal word.

2003-10-23 - 12:28 p.m.

Today I read an entry by Jenfu that used the word “swashbuckling” and I mentally pounced with a silent “ah HA!” feeling vindicated and victorious.

Now that seems a peculiar reaction to the word swashbuckling, you might think.

A couple of weeks ago I used that word in casual conversation. We were talking about fencing and I was explaining the reasons I used to prefer fencing sabre, which included the fact that it just seemed more swashbuckling than foil or epée, which are stabbing weapons. The sabre is a slashing weapon and has that cool guard that curves around your knuckles and joins back up with the grip at the end (note, it may or may not be the pommel and I may or may not be using the right vocabulary – it’s been a very long time since I picked up a blade and I make no claims to being actually good at it even then).

That’s when it happened.

Swashbuckling?” Eyebrows rose, foreheads wrinkled. “What the heck is swashbuckling?” I looked around in disbelief.

“Oh come on, swashbuckling is a perfectly normal word.”

“Noooo. No. No. It’s not.”

“Of course it is.”

“Oh yeah, what does it mean?”

I went on to refer to pirates and they challenged me to use it in a non-pirate context and I said that really, it’s only commonly used in connection with pirates though it could be loosely used for rollicking if you wanted to push it. The use and meaning of swashbuckling isn’t really my point here, though I was inordinately pleased to know I’m not the only one who actually uses the word. My point is that I have exchanges like this ALL THE TIME. And I remember having them since a boyfriend from my mid-teens pointed out that I talk “oddly” because I “use words not normally used outside of fine English”. I suspect that many journallers and people who read a lot also have this happen.

Now people, I don’t hang out with morons. While I do have friends who have left the educational system at different levels (though I have to confess that the majority have at least one university degree), they are smart people as a whole. And the tendency to point out words I use in conversation that they don’t understand is often just as common in certain friends with graduate degrees as it is in others whose talents did not lie in academics.

I have to admit, I do love being able to come up with the perfect word to describe what I’m trying to convey. Perhaps it is even possible that I get a twinge of guilty pleasure out of being asked to define a word. However, it is still kind of annoying to be halted in mid-conversational flight by being asked to explain a word that I assume everyone knows. And it does make me a bit self-conscious; what if they think I’m just showing off? I once dated someone who really was the epitome of a dumb jock but fought that image by using big, complicated words. His problem? He didn’t always use them correctly or appropriately. He got an English paper back with the sole comment, “Verbose” scrawled in red ink at the top. I dread being thought of that way.

Fortunately, anyone who has come for one of my family’s fabulous dinners knows I come by this trait honestly as I simply talk like the rest of my family (who are all readers). J once pointed out that he almost never hears the word “dubious” being used by the general population but that it’s very commonly used amongst my friends and family.

I don’t really have a major point to thrust home here. It’s not really a true rant, it’s not really showing off my big box o’ words, it’s just something that was sparked by seeing “swashbuckling” online and I figure maybe some people out there can relate.

FYI, from Merriam-Webster Online


acting in the manner of a swashbuckler

and for swashbuckler:

a swaggering or daring soldier or adventurer

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