Simply because a man has written books and taught high school English for a decade does not mean he has mastered the English language. Every now and then, I find myself turning to Webster or Rodale or Roget to discover a word’s meaning, especially when someone has used that particular word in reference to me.
Suppose someone called you assiduous? Would you stand before that person and take it? Would you sulk or grow angry? Would you think that person had just described you as something comparable to that part of the human anatomy that we most often sit upon? Ah! Before you explode with wrath, find the dictionary. Yes, there it is sitting on the shelf. Blow off the dust. Look up the word. Go, ahead, look it up. You might discover that assiduity is not one of them fighting words. In fact, you have just received a compliment. You have been described as diligent, as one who gives something his careful attention.
A few years ago, a friend of mine read one of my essays and said to me, “Hoard, you came across as erudite.”
I grit my teeth. Had this man questioned my manhood? I said nothing. I had learned long ago that if you don’t understand quite what someone means, you should remain silent. The scripture says (my paraphrased edition) that if you keep your mouth shut, you don’t expose yourself as the fool that you may actually be. Sometimes, if the situation calls for you to say – something – anything — the best thing to say would be something like, “Erudite, huh. Yes, yes, I can see where you might say that?”
Being called erudite bothered me for the rest of the day. “Erudite? He said I was erudite? And I thought he was my friend.”
When I finally got home that evening, the first thing I did was to go to my book shelves. I pulled out the Webster’s and learned that I had been described as “Widely knowledgeable. Learned. Scholarly.”
Erudite? Of course, of course. I can see where you might would say that. When I told my wife that I had been called erudite, she was, for a moment, silent. Then she finally said, “What is ‘erudite’?”
A couple of years ago I traveled to an Atlanta restaurant to meet with a reporter who wished to interview me. When I read his article, I was surprised to see that he had described me as an “imposing figure.” At the time, I was still the pastor of the church, and I thought that he considered me “intimidating?” I asked my prayer group of men if they thought I was imposing. I don’t think any of them really understood what the word meant either. I finally looked it up and learned that it meant “making a good impression because of size, strength and dignity.”
Dang it all, I’d been getting all these compliments, and if I’d been just maybe a little bit more erudite, if I had been more assiduous in my own learning, I would have actually recognized those praises. Instead of stewing and fretting, I might have actually basked in the glow of such exaltation.
I remember now that the typing teacher once called me impudent. All these years, I have considered that she had somehow insulted me. I think it must have been the way she snarled as she said it. I shall now practice what I preach and look up that word so that instead of feeling bad about it all these years, I can feel good about it instead. It must mean something like important or maybe even imposing.
Ah, here is my Webster’s. Let’s look it up. Improvise, imprudent. Ah, here it is.
Well, so, I see. Hmph! Seems that every now and then when you have believed that someone has insulted you, that particular someone really and truly did.
Oh! You expect me to tell you what impudence means? No way. Get your own Webster’s. Or if you wish, ask your Alexa or your Siri to look up impudence for you. And while you’re at it, if you do take that route, ask her to look up the word indolent, too.