Back when I worked in a cancer research lab, I had a coworker named Andy. He was a big, baby-faced guy with a mop of orange hair and a terrific personality; he was, at once, the most efficient and easy-going person in our lab. But what I enjoyed most about Andy was his vocabulary.
He was always saying things like “Don’t worry about that. We’ve got E. coli in spades.” Or “Don’t be a bozo.” Or “This is not your garden variety melanoma.” He wasn’t one to bust out four or five syllable words in every sentence, but there was something so creative about his vocabulary that I started keeping a list of my favorite “Andyisms” in the drawer under my lab bench. The more Andyisms I collected, the more I saw how they matched up with his personality.
They were highly effective words for two reasons:
1) They were uncommon. They got your attention, fired up your brain cells.
2) They were very descriptive. They conjured up colorful mental images.
But, at the same time, there was a casualness, a quirky, retro friendliness to them. They weren’t meant to sound stuffy or holier-than-thou. They didn’t intrude an inflated ego upon your mental space. They just made you chuckle and go about your business.
Months later, I came across the same voice in an article in the New York’s Time. I had to check and double-check the author’s name to make sure Andy didn’t write it! I followed that up by reading more New York Times articles, and more and more. They were littered with Andyisms!
The list below covers some of my favorite nuggets from my old list of Andy’s vocabulary and from the NY Times…
1) Yes-man. A “yes-man” is a profoundly unhelpful person who agrees with everything you say.
2) Gobsmacked. When you are shocked beyond words, you are “gobsmacked.”
3) Mushroomed. Experiencing sudden, unexpected and somewhat uncontrollable growth? Your situation has just “mushroomed.”
4) Supernova. If you manage to outshine all of your competition, congratulations! You’ve just become a supernova.
5) Whiz-bang. Let’s hope the next US president does a “whiz-bang” job!
6) Jet off. If you’ve got a touch of wanderlust, you might be prone to “jetting off” to exotic locations.
7) Schtick. When a gimmick goes to the Gimmick’s Hall of Fame, it becomes a schtick.
8) Quasi- and meta-. These prefixes are the one-two punch of a punchy vocabulary. Quasi means almost, and meta means…well, just think about Inception.
Which words do you find overused today? Have you ever befriended someone just because you like their vocabulary? Which newspaper do you read?