Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Maudlin": A tribute

Maudlin - effusively or insincerely emotional; "a bathetic novel"; "maudlin expressions of sympathy"; "mushy effusiveness"; "a schmaltzy song"; "sentimental soap operas"; "slushy poetry"

I got me a bottle and a dream, it's so maudlin it seems
-Tom Waits, Bad Liver and a Broken Heart

Maudlin, one of the all-time great words, and a personal favorite of mine, fulfills all the criteria that one should look for in a favorite word:

Onomatopoeia-C'mon, doesn't saying "maudlin" just sort of make you feel a little, well, maudlin? When could you ever actually use that in a sentence in a way that doesn't provoke laughter? A word, of course, is just a word, but there are about 8 people in the world (Opera critics, perhaps?) that can use "maudlin" as an adjective without coming off like an insincere jackass. Somehow, though, this doesn't stop me from using the word as much as I can (then again, no one denies I'm a jackass...). 

Elitism-A favorite word has got to be a little out of the reach of most people around you. This rule is especially true when you're younger, where the prerequisite is that your parents cannot know what the word means. Is it snobbery? I don't think so. After all, how can a word be special when everyone else already uses it? Plus, if the word is tricky to use in a proper context or say correctly (as "maudlin" certainly can be), under no circumstances do you want others to know the right way to use or pronounce it and then get a chance to correct you. Very embarrassing and uncool. The word, of course, quickly loses all it's charm and power after a situation like that (I learned this lesson the hard way many times, most embarrassingly after mistakenly pronouncing "foliage" as "foilage" for about six months before getting caught). 

Self-discovered-A favorite word can't just be something you grabbed off an SAT or GRE study sheet. How boring is that? You have to read the word, hear it said, hear it in a song, basically in some sort of context. My friend Brandon grew especially fond of the word "specious," after hearing me use it to describe the claims of some blowhard. As far as I can recall, I first heard the word "maudlin" in the line quoted at the top, taken from a song on the Tom Waits album Small Change. I remember going to the dictionary right away and looking it up. Being the kind of person that deals in false emotion and insincerity, I knew right away I had found a favorite word for life. 


Anonymous said...

You fool. You've missed what is undoubtedly the greatest use of the word 'maudlin' in human history. John Cale in "the Gift"--when Sheila walks into Marsha's flat and declares "it's absolutely maudlin outside." And you call this a blog.

Todd said...

Finally, a blog with something to say. Consider yourselves bookmarked, gentlemen!

MDD said...

Can I nominate 'halcyon' as a favorite that I believe meets all of your criteria?

Though I would never say it, I'm always very appreciative to the writer when I read it.

Josh said...

MDD, I think you are absolutely correct. Anyone who could use "halcyon" without irony and without sounding like a fool, would be my hero. If they could slip in "sepia tinged" as well, they would be a language god.

Brandon said...

I think that my favorite word to say to myself, in private, is "haberdashery." It sounds so beautiful. That and "booya," but only after wathcing Jim Cramer.