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Sunday, September 22, 2002

Word Up

Houghton Mifflin is plugging their new dictionary with a list of one hundred words high school graduates should know. Some of them are pretty standard. Some of them are just weird. Why quasar, yeoman, and ziggurat? Because they needed a word for each letter of the alphabet (though they already had quotidian).

One of their words is moiety. Meryl Yourish doesn't think much of the utility of moiety, or of the list in general. I have an anecdote about the word moiety.

I used to work with a group led by Terribly Distinguished Yet Really Fun Scientist. They are chemists, and in their work they use the word moiety. I didn't work closely enough with them to know what, exactly, they used it for. Propping up the table leg, for all I know. I think it referred to this here part of the molecule, rather than that there part. I hope that technical discussion was not over your heads.

Anyway, one day the group received email from Fresh Young British Scientist, who did not work in their field, exactly. She demanded to know whether moiety was a real word, or if it was just some poncy term they had made up. Confusion reigned, with Amusement as his consort. There was a bit of low dudgeon in the ranks over the tone that Fresh Young had taken with Terribly Distinguished, but TD himself seemed merely amused. More than that, though, no one was quite sure what poncy meant. Local Brit was applied to, and decreed that poncy was a way of saying fancy-schmancy (Local Brit had a couple of Shakespeare quotes ready to hand, which made us wonder if she weren't being a bit poncy herself).

As one who had been mildly irked by Fresh Young's tone, I am quite pleased to see that moiety, far from being a suspect exotic word, is one of the hundred words that high school graduates---let alone Bright Young British Things---should know. I guess educational standards in that fabled land are not what they are claimed to be. Perhaps we should take up a collection, so that Britain may have some of the new Houghton Mifflin dictionaries. "Dics for Brits", we'll call it. Won't you give generously?

(I, of course, knew exactly what moiety was. It was the name of the shadowy resistance group in the game Riven, the ones who kidnap you and take you to the giant puffball.)

"I have an anecdote about the word moiety." That, folks, is all you need to know about my personality. You may call me by my pseudonym, A. Crashing Bore. I strive at all times to be prolix, sesquipedalian, and obfuscatory.