“Well, my boy, you’ve certainly got me blind on this one.” Arthur Watkins held up the slip of paper on which I had written the word for the table. The other five seated around the table – Ravi Ramakrishnan, Raoul Carter, Ross Ewage (the noted vulgarian), my old friend Philippe Entrecote, and Jess Long – seemed to be in agreement.
But that was good. Because this was a blind word tasting. The idea is that you start with a word you don’t know and see what taste it has without prior knowledge of its semantics or usage patterns, and then the host gradually gives more information. This is a difficult thing to do with a crowd of top-level word tasters: find a word they don’t know.
I almost felt guilty about this one I had given them. Almost.
On the slip of paper was written aelbaroate.
“That word’s a real ***********,” Ross said. “It’s got me up the ********* with sandpaper.” (Sorry, but this has to get through those pervasive antiperversion filters.)
“This isn’t a game of ‘guess,'” I said. “You know that. Tell me what you get from it as you see it.”
“It seems,” Ravi said, “to be like a word for some name of some demon.”
“Like Adalbaoth,” said Raoul. “Except it’s not capitalized.”
“Demons need investors?” Ravi said disingenuously. He knew well enough that the point was that demons’ names are proper nouns, and I hadn’t written Aelbaroate with a capital A.
“It reminds me of some biochemical names,” Raoul said. “The chelates or salts. Like furoate.”
“It has nice echoes of labor or lobar,” Jess said. “As in logophiles’ labours lost. Or perhaps boreal. If it’s a demon, it’s the one responsible for frosty days in hell.” She had a little half-smile.
“I like the mellifluous vowels,” said Ravi, “with the liquids. It has a certain Spanishness to its feel, too, if you were to say the ae as a plain e.”
“I find that opening ae interesting,” Philippe said. “It suggests it may be from Latin. Is it also spelled with just an e?”
“Yes,” I said, “as a matter of fact I found more than 400 hits on Google with the spelling e-l-b-a-r-o-a-t-e.”
“Same word?” Arthur asked.
“Yes, indeed,” I said. Jess was looking at the paper with the word on it. The corner of her mouth turned up a bit more and one eyebrow arched.
“I’d like to know where you found this one,” Arthur said.
“I got it from my friend Alan,” I replied. “He used it in an email message.”
“But is it a word? Do people use it?” Arthur persisted.
“Define use. Define people,” I said. “What people actually use floccinaucinihilipilificate? And how do they actually use it?”
“I’m getting close to using it right here,” Raoul muttered, meaning the long word just mentioned, which refers to an act of estimating something as worthless.
“You’re being as slippery as a ******* ****,” Ross said. (Those filters again. You know.) “Use it in a sentence.”
“I’d aelbaroate if I could,” I said. “But the matter is very aelbaroate.”
Jess leaned back and grinned.
“A verb and an adjective,” Philippe said. “So the ate ending really is the morpheme ate, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, “used for forming a verb of conversion or result, and used in place of a past tense form for the adjectival version.”
Arthur, Philippe, Ravi, and Raoul looked at me with are-you-for real expressions. “Somehow,” said Philippe, “I’ve gotten this far in this life without knowing this word.”
Ross rolled his eyes. Jess was doing her best Cheshire cat.
“Jess,” Ravi said. “Is there something you would like to share with the class?”
“Gentlemen,” Jess said, “you have been the victims of an elaborate hoax.” Then, to given them an extra chance at understanding, she said again, slowly, “Elaborate.”
“It doesn’t seem so elaborate to – oh,” Philippe said. I knew for sure he had twigged when he said, “No fair using typographical errors.”
Ravi had also caught on. He wagged his finger. “Especially ones that are not even proper typos. This word has an extra a, three instead of the two in elaborate.”
“Consider it a Hallowe’en costume,” I said. “I wanted to give you a fresh experience of tasting form purely for form. It caught my eye, Alan’s typo. But we could always decide to give it a meaning and use it as such. I’m sure that some of the fake meanings in Douglas Adams’s The Meaning of Liff have passed into semi-common usage.”
“Still and all,” Arthur said, “it’s not just ectrick.”