I like to learn new words. Not from word-a-day websites or calendars, but from my own reading, where context is more likely to make the new word stick. This week, three words impressed themselves upon me, three lovely little morsels of brain candy.
1. Jerboa -- I encountered this noun while reading Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns
(a somewhat misleading title, btw). The jerboa is described as a desert rodent with a long tail, and the jerboa is caught and cooked in a (much maligned) stew by folks traversing the desert. I assumed the jerboa was a mythical "smeerp" type critter that resembled a squirrel or chinchilla. Then I saw a picture of a real-life jerboa
online. And was instantly, retroactively revolted at every mention of the stew. I think it's the tail. And the long skinny legs. And the skin on its bat-like ears. Considering how many of the online mentions of jerboas emphasize their cute-itude, I suspect I am in the minority with my revulsion, much like snowy_owlet
and her feelings toward sloths.
2. Caudillismo -- I've seen (and looked up) this word many times before, from my general interest in Mexican history and the polysci copyediting I did years ago. But it never really stuck until this week, when I came across it again in Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
A caudillo is defined in the book's glossary as "a charismatic political leader who derives his power from his military experience, prowess, and bearing." So caudillismo is that form of leadership. Why should the term stick now, when it never did before? For one thing, you're familiar with the idea of "my TV (or book) boyfriend"? Well, Subcomandante Marcos is my Rebel Boyfriend. Any word I learn from him has instant cachet. Also, the fact that the book has a glossary means I can flip back and refresh my memory, and the memory is further solidified by the look of the formatted text.
3. Sankofa -- This is an Akan word from Ghana that I learned from reading "lifestream,"
Sofia Samatar's account of the Princeton symposium "Ferguson Is The Future." I see from several online sources that, roughly translated, sankofa means "reach back and get it" and is associated with a proverb along the lines of "there's no shame in going back for what you forgot." Most often sankofa is symbolized by a bird flying forward while twisting its head back to take an egg in its beak. There's a picture of the symposium poster in Sofia's post, and it includes a different sankofa symbol near the center: the twisty, twirly heart-shape. The concept of sankofa, of retrieving precious things from the past, resonates with me partly because of the research I've been doing on Sara Estela Ramirez, a nearly forgotten rebel poet of the Mexican Revolution. Much of her poetry was published in newspapers, which are so ephemeral, and even more so when they are of and for a marginalized population, as was Ramirez's writing for Mexican exiles living in South Texas around the turn of the 20th century. I can't even find a surviving photo of the woman, though I've seen several of her contemporaries. I would very much like to reach back and retrieve ALL the work of this amazing antepasada.
Have you learned any new words this week? What made them stand out for you? Maybe you made up a new word? Please share in the comments!