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n. The pleasant loamy smell of rain on the ground, especially after a long dry spell.

I love this word.  I am at heart and soul an urbanite, and hold a strange fondness for the sweet, almost sickly, and supremely “city” smell of a late afternoon rain splattering against a steaming, mid-July concrete jungle.  Always loved the smell, never knew what to call it before the NYT’s review of Reading the OED illuminated its meaning and promptly earned Ammon Shea a place on my reading list.  Fast forward 3 years (which is how long its taken to work its way to the top of the stack), and here we are.

One might think a book about a guy reading a book to be a boring topic.  And it’s not just any book he’s reading; it’s the Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 bound volumes.  But Mr. Shea’s narration of the experience and recitation of his favorite words and the reasons therefor are delightful. 

His laments of the taxing physical symptoms of reading for 8-10 hours per day would be familiar to any lawyer – the cramped and hunched shoulders, waning and occasionally spotty or blurred vision, the delirium of discovering the perfect word for an obscure circumstance, or previously undiscovered error made by a worthy opponent, daily mid-afternoon migraines, and moments of absolute and unshakable boredom….  There were rare few words quoted in the book for which I knew (or could guess based on entomology) the meaning of, and discovered all manner of new words for the mundane and the extraordinary, including an old English 8-point list of words describing a drunkard, based on the seemingly animalitistic characteristics displayed when intoxicated (see, lion-drunke).

From his selected compilation, a summary list of my favorites.

all-overish (adj.) Feeling an undefined sense of unwell that extends to the whole body.  apricity (n.) The warmth of the sun in winter.  backfriend (n.) A fake friend; a secret enemy (the old school word for a frenemy).  conjubilant (adj.) Being jubilant or rejoicing with another; and its close relative, conjugalism (n.) The art of making a good marriage.  gastrophilanthropist (n.) A benevolent purveyor for the appetites of others.  jocoserious (adj.) Half serious and half in jest.  lion-drunke (adj.) “He flings the pots about the house, calls his Hostesse whore, breakes the glasse windows with his dagger, and is apt to quarrell with any man that speaks to him”.  obdormition (n.) The falling asleep of a limb; which can be eased by pandiculation (n.) The act of stretching and extending the limbs, in tiredness or waking.  philodox (n.) A person in love with his own opinion. sarcast (n.) A writer or speaker who is sarcastic.  unbepissed (adj.) Not having been urinated on; unwet with urine (which Ammon Shea appropriately points out is perhaps the weirdest adjective for a person to have occasion to use).  vicambulist (n.) One who walks about in the streets (not like a homeless person, like one who enjoys walking about in the streets of a city).

(NB: these words are so obscure that when I spell-checked this posting, every single one of them was unrecoginzed by WordPress’ dictionary.  Get with the (ye olde) times, WordPress!)

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Let’s just say there are three reasons I have an iphone in a country where I have an alternative smartphone (aka, the lawyer-leash that is the blackberry) and no one to call: (1) checking my gmail account for the 3 spam emails and 1 email from Gram I receive every day, (2) reading the NYT (even though I now also have pay for my NYT subscription), and (3) playing words with friends.  You might be tempted to ridicule me for spending $150 per month on such frivolity, especially since I essentially sit in front of a computer all day every day, but before you do, read previous posts on my insatiable need to fill every minute with activity and the fact that I’m a lawyer.  15 minutes on the tram in the morning and 7 minutes in the cab at night on the way home need to be filled somehow….

If you play words with friends, you know what a phenomena it is.  But did you know it can make you actual friends in your non-virtual life?  Like the other day, when a friend I was meeting for lunch was running late.  I felt bad about taking up the last two-top in the restaurant and then sitting there alone for 20 minutes, so I ordered and coffee and avoided eye contact by checking my words with friends game.  After a few minutes, the guy sitting next to me glanced at me and said, “oh geez, it’s got you too!”  This turned into a lovely 20-minute chat about how addicting and fun the game is.  

“How many games to you have going right now?” (four)  “Do you play all the time, like at 1am in bed?”  (although I think this one was intended for his partner, who was clearly playing the game during their brunch, the answer is of  course, yes.  I’m a lawyer, for crying out loud, midnight in bed is my prime playing time!)

Or, a few weeks ago, when I was on a 9am tram (read: super crammed full of people elbow to elbow) and couldn’t help noticing this guy struggling with his game.  I think we would have made friends if I had had the guts to point out that he could play “azure” with a triple letter on the “Z”.  I was slightly afraid he would think I was a stalker though and, with nowhere to turn (literally), I kept my word play a secret.  This was quite hard, as any one who plays knows the satisfaction of a bang-up, 30+ point word…

And now, I’m even playing friends with Steve’s friends, for a new challenge.

I’ve got two regulars: Steve, whom I often play on the couch sitting next to him, and Mark, with whom I work the time zones and eagerly await his next move. My opponents offer different challenges.  I walk a fine line with Steve, who accuses me of cheating if I make a 20 point 2-letter word or do things like used the little colored tiles on the board game to score a double or triple word.  If I’m beating him by more than 30 points, he threatens to resign.  You would think this is frustrating, but it’s actually kind of fun to live within the limits of a 22 point lead using 3-4 letter words and only the occasional slam dunk (when I just can’t help it!)  

With Mark, it is all out war.  I HATE that he always beats me, but then again, I’m pretty sure while the rest of us were taking notes during those three years of law school lectures he was playing words with friends on Facebook.   He’s got all the tricks in the book – setting himself up with one word for a second jugular kill; playing words like “Qi” on a triple letter; using the “s” to piggyback off of an existing, high-scoring word while creating another word for a double whammy.  I’m learning much as a scrabble padawan from this master.

(case in point: Mark played “herein”, narrowly missing by one tile the TW to the north end of his word.  Or so I thought.  Fast-forward to his next play, “grit”, landing the “T” squarely on the trip-word and making like, a bajillion points.  Use of the double whammy and lawyerly-vocab; how can I compete with that?  Note for posterity, this is the one game I have won in like, 2 months.)

claireshamara.  That’s my username; look me up if you dare!