When I was in grade school our class would go down to the library once a week and spend some time finding books and reading quietly.* I still remember our librarian telling us that while it was important to learn something new and be challenged by what we read, it was also true that trying to read a book too far outside our abilities was likely to be frustrating and we wouldn’t be able to engage as deeply with the story or the material. She shared a tip to determine if a book was too advanced for us: open the book at random and start reading. If you got to the bottom of the page and there were more than five words you had to look up, she suggested you choose a different book and come back to that one later on. It’s actually a tip I still use to this day (although somewhat more loosely), and I still find it helpful.
However, I’ve realized lately that I haven’t increased my vocabulary as much as I used to, although I still come across words that, for lack of a better word,** grasp me. In an effort to remember those words and begin using them more often, I’ve decided to record them here. One of the words that grasped me recently is not so much a new word as it is a word I haven’t thought about in several years. I came across the British word barmy recently and was reminded of my time in Scotland, where barmy was used to describe the weather (our equivalent of balmy), a person (someone crazy or eccentric), or beer and cider (meaning frothy or foamy). In the latter case, however, you might stick to using it to describe fermented drinks because I’m pretty sure if you tried to order a barmy latte, they might look at you funny.***
*This was, perhaps, the beginning of my love of libraries. Hanging out in a library or a bookstore and perusing the shelves for hours is still one of my favorite activities.
**Ironic that I don’t have a better word for this. Hence this “good word” series, I suppose.
***Actually, if you want a particularly foamy latte, you might as well just order a cappuccino – a tip from an ex-barista.