Saturday, 10 September 2016

Unravelling Words

Warning: this is another “wordy” blog – exploring word meanings. If this sounds to you about as exciting as watching paint dry, you can stop reading now. Just tell yourself the crow has flown off into the wild blue yonder and you aren’t in any mood to follow.

The other day, in conversation with friend, I used the word “revelatory” (rev-e-la-tor-y) twice within a very short time, as in, “My summer was actually quite revelatory.”  Whoa! How pretentious of me! (Fortunately, my friend did not wince, roll her eyes, or turn away to find a more compatible conversation partner. Pretty revelatory of her character, I’d say.)

I wondered if  revelatory was even a word. When I got home, I looked it up. Yes, it’s a word. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, revelatory means  “making something known : revealing something in usually a surprising way.” Apparently, it was first used, but not often, in the late 1880s; now its use is increasing.  Maybe we’re living in a society where there are more mind-blowing, revelatory occurrences? Or maybe we just like using big words more. According to my friend Google, in the list of 86,800 most commonly used words in the English language, revelatory clocks in at 51,931, right after Nescafe and just before waterbus. Most popularly used word? The. Least common of the 86,800 words: Conquistador. (

Sorry, I’m running down rabbit trails, misleading you. Bad habit. Pretty revelatory of my character, I’d say. I’m like the dog that walks faithfully beside you until a squirrel runs past her.

Actually, thinking about creating a blog about the word revelatory has come around and bitten me in the derriere. I’m the person who was ranting a number of blogs ago about people using the word “utilize” when when the simple word “use” will do. Flashing the word revelatory around is pretty pretentious and pedantic – or pompous, in plain English. Oh, dear, I am like the crow who collects shiny things and caches them in a safe place, only I am collecting fancy words. Those shiny things are not very helpful to the crow, and big fancy words are often not useful if simple words will do. What is wrong with the word “revealing”, I ask myself? Revealing is a good serviceable word and will get the idea across without raising eyebrows.

Except ...  there’s that use of the word “surprise” in the definition.

Surprise – that little shift in the way you look at things that suddenly lets you see them in a new way. It’s a change in perception. For instance, I’m sure the RS looks in the mirror at least a few times a day, but earlier this week, he walked out of the bathroom and told me, with surprise in his voice, “I’m realizing that we are really getting old.” The mirror that usually revealed the common, everyday version of himself, suddenly became revelatory.

And revelatory was the only word that would do when I was looking at a photo that someone posted of me on Facebook.  Do people really see that when they look at me? Aghg. I thought after I lost those 30 pounds a few years ago I was well on the way to being svelte. Apparently not.

Revelatory is a good word when someone comes out with a Freudian slip. A Freudian slip is when you mean to say one thing, but something different comes out: you want to say another but out comes your mother. These slip-ups are revelatory of what’s living in your deep sub-conscious. Since this term was first described by Freud, you can guess that often Freudian slips pertain to sex: you say ‘brightest and breast’ rather than brightest and best; wish someone a sexcessful adventure instead of successful; ... well, I’m not telling you about my Freudian slips, they are way too revelatory.

On the other hand, “revealing” is perfectly adequate in many other situations.

Speedo swimsuits on overweight – well, actually, any weight – men are revealing. No surprise there.

Ditto for low cut blouses, skin-tight short-shorts, curtainless windows at night, and an interview with Donald Trump: revealing.

The dress I bought on impulse because it looked so good on someone else? When I tried it on at home in a better light, in front of a full-length mirror, oops. Way to revealing of my varicose veins and not-so-lovely knees. Not good. I keep it as a reminder of the dangers of impulse shopping.

Revealing and revelatory: both good words, depending on what you want to say. Personally, however, I enjoy a good revelatory experience once in a while to shake me up a bit, and I realize that I actually did have a revelatory summer. I got shook up a bit, and that’s a subject for another blog.

Conclusion: writing about revelatory was a revealing experience. In the future, I should be using “revealing” and “revelatory” in their correct contexts. No use complexifying things.