Friday, April 24, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: L is for ...


I know, I haven't written a Word Nerd post in a while. "L" just isn't that interesting a letter to me. It doesn't sound very unique—it's more of a default sound: la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. "L" is a very utilitarian letter and I didn't feel like contemplating it, or even browsing through the "L" section in the dictionary. But I was feeling guilty about neglecting the blog, so I tried to think of an interesting "L" word. Then I remembered this one and I felt compelled to write about it.

Compelled, because I have a little confession to make. I can spell lagniappe with ease. I can even pronounce it without looking it up: LAN-yap. But ask me what it means? Um. Well. Is it that word I can never remember that means something about a earning a break from a job, or maybe a reward by chance, and it has a military origin and I read it in a series about a spaceship captain with an intelligent, six-legged telepathic cat?* Or was that a phrase? I can never remember.

So I decided to bring you lagniappe, because maybe this way I'll remember what it means. According to Merriam-Webster: "a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; or more broadly, something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure." Like an extra donut thrown into your dozen, or the little charm bracelet I got at the jeweler's when I bought TSU cufflinks for Christmas. Okay, I think I can remember that, especially when I consider this cool word origin: American French via American Spanish la ├▒apa, from the Quechua yapa, "something added." There aren't many English words that derive from Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas (and over 8 million present-day Andeans), only around 20 or so. Now that's memorable.

Great. Now I'll be able to define lagniappe any time I need to. Now if I can just remember that other word....

*David Weber's Honor Harrington series, great fun if you like space opera or strong heroines.


  1. The best thing about the letter L is the Sesame Street letter L song, I think.

  2. Cute. But is it wrong of me to think of totally inappropriate "L" words while Bert is singing? "La la la la ... lustful!"