In 2020, we were delighted to interview, and read the work of Vancouver’s own CBC Word Guy, Dr. Jonathan Berkowitz.
Now, Berkowitz is out with a new book and we want to know more!
i. You’re The Word Guy, so we’ll start with an impossible word question. What is one word that is intriguing you right now? Why?
I am intrigued by the word indefatigable, which I was recently called. It means “incapable of being fatigued; untiring.” It has two prefixes: de- means “do the opposite” and in- means “not.” The root word is fatigue meaning “to tire with labour or exertion.” So indefatigable seems like a double negative; “not the opposite of tiring” which would mean “tiring”, not “untiring.” That’s intriguing!
ii. And what is one word that you would use to start to capture the tumult that the world has been through over the last three years. Why that word?
Bewildering means “to cause to lose one’s bearings” and “to perplex or confuse especially by a complexity, variety, or multitude of objects or considerations.” That fits our times. It has various synonyms, my favourite of which is “puzzle,” because puzzles, as a noun, are a passion of mine.
iii. And one word that just irritates you for no good reason?
I am irritated by the overuse of the word amazing. It means “causing astonishment, great wonder, or surprise.” Our lexicon has many far better words to describe outstanding persons, places, and events. If I am allowed a second irritating word it would be “can’t”; life is better when you think you “can”!
iv. So, what is the title of your most recent book?
Tales From the Word Guy: What Your English Teacher Never Taught You
v. How would you describe it in three sentences or so?
The book is a collection of essays adapted from my popular monthly column on CBC Radio 1’s North by Northwest. I take the readers on a journey through the history, idiosyncrasies, and sheer pleasures of the English language. I cover how English evolved and expanded over the centuries and discuss long-forgotten aspects of how to use the language properly. The book uses wit and humour to appeal to everyone who communicates in our marvellous English language.
vi. Why this book now?
I yielded to the CBC listeners who have been clamouring for a written version of my columns. With six years as the Word Guy under my belt I had more than enough to fill a book. Recent columns will have to wait for an expanded edition, or second volume. Besides, there is never not a good time to learn about language.
vii. What are 1 or 2 examples of how many of us use English words improperly?
Many people use fulsome to mean “full, abundant, copious.” But it really means “offensive, overdone, effusive,” all of which are negative. So, don’t use the word. Mitigate means “to alleviate or make less harsh.” That’s different from militate which means “to have effect,” so something can militate against, but cannot mitigate against! Don’t get me started on literally vs figuratively!
viii. What is an English word that has fallen out of favour, but that you think deserves a revival. Why?
Curglaff (or curgloff) is the shock that one feels when first plunging into cold water. And the experience might make you begrumpled, which means “displeased.” There are many so-called lost words waiting to be rediscovered and brought out of mothballs!
ix. What do you hope people will get out of reading your latest book?
I hope the book will kindle or rekindle deep appreciation for the beauty of English. And I hope it will entertain, educate, and enlighten everyone about our enthralling language.
x. Anything to add?
Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword. But the pen is only as mighty as the words it writes. Please enjoy my words about words.
Header Photo: charles deluvio
Photo 2: Moraine Lake. Photo by Alayna Tam
And, yes, ‘begrumpled’ is our new favourite word. 🙌🏼