Is your verbal arsenal loaded for bear?

SOMETHING about the ad coming across the car radio caught my ear: ``Every time you open your mouth to speak there's no place to hide. . . .'' The gentleman was selling a ``completely unique'' cassette course in word enrichment for ``busy people who want a powerful vocabulary but don't have time to study.'' That was for me. When I got home I started dialing with the confidence that I would be ``completely satisfied'' or my money back. This outfit wasn't involved with schemes that were relatively unique or that would merely satisfy the consumer. Soon, hundreds of ``persuasive and compelling'' words would be stockpiled in my ``verbal arsenal.'' I fantasized about walking up to people and saying, ``Bang, you're inanimate.''

Committing 800-plus bons mots to memory and then deploying each one judiciously to ameliorate my ``potential for success'' was no picnic. To help me, the first cassette outlined a system of associating each word with a visual image. Here's an example:

``Foist: to cause a person to accept something unwelcome . . . [as in] the job was foisted on us. Association: You're the foist unwelcome visitor we've had.''

Later that week, to my dismay, I found that not only was the meaning of foist elusive but my pronunciation of ``first'' had badly deteriorated. Here's another example:

``Hirsute: hairy, shaggy. . . . Association: Her favorite suit was all hairy.'' (But I came up with an even better memory aid: ``This word is not known by every Tom, Dick, and hirsute.'')

It was rough sledding but I was making progress. One night, at the local country store, I decided to unleash my new vocabulary on some of the guys. ``Effete'' (tired, worn out) seemed like a good prospect. ``Yo, Louie, you sure look effete tonight.'' Before you could say ``Look it up,'' I was supine. And look it up I did, finding a few additional definitions for effete not included on my cassette, like decadent and sterile. I vowed to be more careful before firing off my next verbal barrage.

``Winsome'' (attractive appearance or personality) was another conscript which overstayed its hitch. Back at the country store, I circumambulated up to a young woman and averred (declared in a positive or peremptory manner): ``Darling, I have been ruminating on the kudos appropriate to your ectomorphic, winsome superstructure. . . .''

Smack! ``One more word, you cad, and I'll teach you the meaning of loathsome. . . .''

After a few such minor skirmishes, I completed the eight-cassette course.

As the cassette man had said, the association technique ``catapulted the right word to my lips.'' Indeed, sesquipedalian semantic units fairly flew out of my mouth at all hours. The high school equivalency crowd down at the store was emerald with envy.

One night, after a particularly powerful soliloquy, Louie dumped his new Coke over my head. On such occasions in the past I would have blurted out, ``Why, you worthless mound of garbage.'' But catching myself, I rose up and began to enunciate, ``Why, you unctuous, nugatory Lilliputian welter of malodorous flotsam.''

Somewhere between Lilliputian and welter, he hit me, smack dab on the kisser.

Since that incident I have disarmed. ``Every time you open your mouth to speak there's no place to hide.'' Don't I know it.

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

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