• Monthly Archives: March 2024

The Glossary of Useful Words 24: ‘cachinnate’

March 16, 2024

Laughter is an almost unique human behavior/trait that is denoted in every language by a verb and its coordinate substantive. Some languages have at least two such verbs, the first being the neutral descriptor and the second describing the action to a higher degree. Thus Russian (Y-H-B’s native language) has the neutral verb smejat’sja but also the verb xoxotat’ ‘laugh uproariously’.
In English we also have a verb of the second type, cachinnate, which is largely unknown to the general speaking public. The two agentive substantives derived therefrom are cachinnator (male) and cachinnatrix (female), neither of which are in general use. They are very handy, nevertheless, as was proved to me this morning when I visited my Saturday Stammlokal for breakfast, The Little Rooster Café, in Manchester Center, Vermont. One of the servers, a woman named Michelle, who cachinnates habitually, did so several times today, and I was moved to say to her, “you’re quite a cachinnatrix!” At which she looked at me dumbfoundedly.


The Voiding of Literal Meaning through Overuse (‘absolutely’)

March 10, 2024

Certain words in all languages lose their original or literal meaning through overuse. In contemporary American English no word meets this definition more closely than absolutely, which has become simply a vocable used for emphasis or affirmation, replacing words like yes, right, or such phrases as “you can say that again.” Another such word is great, as when a waitress asked a customer in my Sunday Stammlokal, Up for Breakfast, whether he would like a regular coffee rather than a flavored one, and he answered, “That would be great!”

As has been registered here before, absolutely as a habitual emphatic or affirmative is yet another example of American English’s tropism toward overstatement (i.e., linguistic hypertrophy). Tant pis!