The Word That Must Not Be Spoken

Sitting here, enjoying a lovely afternoon, television on a news channel, political pundits’ conversation filling the room with background noise; when all of a sudden, with zero warning, I heard the dread word. My head jerking up, uttering an audible gasp, I not only heard the dread word once; that bald, pedantic gentleman said it twice.

Oh brother! I chastised myself one more time for being so silly. I think forty-nine years has been plenty long enough to carry around the embarrassment and humiliation caused by that awful word. Really woman, it’s time to get over it!

And in spite of stern admonishment to myself, I felt the same mortification today as I did that spring morning, seated with my brilliant English Composition classmates outside under the pine trees, in our campus’s aged, yet noble Greek Theatre, reading Shakespeare out loud to each other. It was my turn, and I felt clever, cultured, and downright smart as I read in my most melodious, expressive voice.

Then it happened. Right there on my page was a word which I can only describe as one of my reading words. You know, those pesky words no one ever uses in conversations; those words we run across, infrequently enough, that we read them phonetically, but never really learn how to pronounce them correctly. At least when I was eighteen, I had not learned how to pronounce that particular word. And I had to read it in front of everyone.

I read it, and without missing a beat, the entire class burst out laughing. Oh no. They were laughing at me, and there was no way I could wiggle out of my mistake. Plus, have I mentioned that I blush? Thin, translucent, Celtic skin. My entire life, I have blushed anywhere from a slight pink to a deep, deep red. At that moment, deep, deep red is a feeble descriptor of the color I turned.

Thankfully, I was rescued by a professor who had a sensitivity gene that kicked in and took hold of the moment, using humor and generosity of spirit to cover my gaffe, and move the class on down their Shakespearian road. I do not recall exactly what he said, but it was perfect, and allowed me to recover a modicum of dignity. And I am quite sure he had never seen anyone turn that color red before, so it had to be in everyone’s interest to lighten the situation before I keeled over, right there in the Greek Theatre, from excessive shame, and the rest of the class from unabated laughter.

I survived that day. I never set foot in the hallowed Greek Theatre again, nor have I ever repeated that blasted word out loud in front of others, or alone, all by myself. After all, there are plenty of words in our English language that express precisely what needs to be said for adequate communication and understanding. To use anything more, especially the dread word, would be superfluous. There. I did it! By sneaking that word in here, I have taken my first step on the path to healing. And it’s about time, because any more of my life spent in self-reproach really would be (here it comes again) superfluous.

12 thoughts on “The Word That Must Not Be Spoken

  1. Too funny. Great word. Mispronounced by more than a few. I like hearing or reading words that you see in the Readers Digest Word Power or in crossword puzzles. Our egos need a boost now and then and I want to shout, “I know that word.” It is like the very few times when I get a Jeopardy answer right before the question winner. Thanks VG. BTG


    1. Thank you, BTG! I play Jeopardy every night, and get so excited to shout out the correct answer. It also keeps in my mind there still is a whole lot I don’t know, and how important it is to continue learning.


  2. That is what I told my kids as teenagers. The more you learn, the more you realize what you do not know. I love Jeopardy, especially when all three contestants have a chance to win in Final Jeopardy. I do wish they would let the losing contestants keep their dollars as winnings.


  3. I was an avid reader of books beyond my age level and encountered words I’d never heard spoken. As a result, I ended up mispronouncing many words and later had to relearn them.
    One of my favorite authors was Agatha Christie. I pronounced Agatha with an emphasis on the ‘gath’.


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