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What in the world does that mean?

Most of you know that I have a big problem trying to think of topics to write about in this space every week. Assign me a subject, and I can probably come up with 500 words or so on anything you might toss in my direction. The biggest stumbling block is just thinking of something about which I can write the right number of words to begin my argument, present my opinion, and reach a conclusion that makes you say, ‘oh, yeah…’

This is one of those nights when there is nothing in the hopper. Tonight I do not care what you think and I do not want to sell you on what I think.

So I decide to take a break and move to the murder mystery I have been reading by one of my favorite authors. I will read for awhile and see if I can come back to this column and make a point about something … anything!

Buried in one of the paragraphs of the book is a word I have never before, EVER in my life, seen. Now, I know that I am old and I know that there are not too many things in my sphere of experience that surprise me anymore. My sphere of experience includes a lot of reading and lately writing for this publication and I try to know the words I am using. But this baby, buried in a murder mystery of little importance, has just about pushed me over the edge.

The word is anodyne. The author is sending his hero in search of a body that has disappeared and the hero arrives at a hospital. He is looking for a morgue, but knows the directional sign is probably less “descriptive” (my word) than that. The author says the sign is anodyne because it does not say morgue, it says “Special Services.”

Anodyne. What? What is that? I have never heard of that word, nor have I ever seen it. I pride myself on looking up words I don’t know and using them. Anodyne … anodyne. Luckily, even though I am older than dirt and grew up using a dictionary, I now have a computer and I can quickly check the thesaurus feature for words that have the same or similar meanings.

Anodyne pops up in a few seconds with a list of words beneath it. They are: insipid, bland, tame, neutral, dull, and colorless. So, if you are anodyne, you don’t rock. Did I get it? Yeah, I think I did — just when I thought I knew them all, I learned a new word.

So how about this for the next 51opinion columns of 2012 — or at least some of them? You send me a word or two that seems old-fashioned, out-of-date, or something you have never heard before and I will find the meaning and create an opinion column that helps us both and teaches the readers something new. Sound like a plan? (We are at 528 words and most people won’t read a column that is much longer, so I am finished.)

— Susan Marshall

Last modified Jan. 4, 2012

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