Which word does not belong?

When you tackle the Quandary, do you find that one word stands out as the most challenging to work with?

This question came up in recent correspondence I had with QQ veteran cusheamus.  I’d like to invite readers of Omnium Gatherum to join in the discussion.

It all started with the motley quartet of 1.26.2011.  Cusheamus wrote:

Today’s quandary is a good example of something that I find particularly difficult: making a convincing arrangement out of flowers from four different continents, as it were. Guerdon is via French from Latin and has a medieval feel; ding-dong ditch is pure Anglo-Saxon; bathetic is Greek; and gung-ho is Chinese.”  ??????Can you imagine a more dissonant chord?! Ugly, ugly, with only one chance to resolve it so it sounds like music and not noise.  Well, actually, resolve it so it sounds like language and not noise.??????  This is another layer of difficulty, in other words: not just using four difficult words in one illustrative sentence, but speaking four different languages in one illustrative sentence. I feel pleased with myself for even being brave enough to try. 🙂

My response:

I see what you mean about the particularly strong dissonance of this quandary.  I appreciate the reminder, as I’ve grown so accustomed to this dissonance that I often take it as a matter of fact and am more inclined to notice something out of the ordinary when the words fit together particularly well.??????  Often I find the challenge being at the boundary between three and four what I mean is, I can quickly find a good fit for three of the words but I spend considerable effort trying to integrate the??? remaining word the one really dissonant note.   I find this??? situation is sometimes more challenging than today’s, where none of the words seem to have natural affinities.   When three words do form a good fit, I grapple with the question of preserving my initial formulation (and jamming the fourth word in somehow) or scrapping it and looking for a way to treat the words more evenly.

From cusheamus:

I often have exactly the same experience you describe of having to shoehorn the fourth word into something that otherwise works quite well, which is fascinating when you start to think about it. Is it something about our neurology? You know how [alert: generalization coming up] it’s often easier and more satisfying to think creatively about odd numbers of things? An even number of something can have a closed, clunky feeling and adding one seems to open it up again.

More from cusheamus:

While acknowledging that observing anything changes it beyond recognition, I propose a modest, informal experiment: when we read the list of four words, starting at the top, notice how often it is the fourth/last word that doesn’t fit. That is, by the time we get to the fourth word, have our brains already begun on the first three? I noticed that strongly with today’s four [1.27.2011]. As I went down the list, I quickly had a picture in my mind of a detective looking at someone lying dead or severely injured at the bottom of a ladder, “procumbent” was there and a tremor of “dubitation” and some undeserved “censure”, but then “jobbery” stopped me cold. There was not remotely an actual sentence yet, just a sketchy picture with the word “jobbery” hangin’ off it.

Try to notice your pattern of seeing the words for the first time and see how often it’s the last word you look at that makes everything difficult. 

Comments from QQ participants are warmly invited — what’s your own experience of handling the words?


3 thoughts on “Which word does not belong?

  1. Finding it difficult to use the *last* word suggests a more "linear" approach to sentence construction, whereas my own method might be a bit more "lateral," i.e. I bounce from word to word waiting for some "story" to materialize in my mind (as opposed to constructing the story "sequentially" as my eyes go down the list in order).I agree that often it seems to come down to that one tough word out of the four; but this challenge is, of course, part of what makes the game so much fun.Thanks for this enjoyable game–it’s a great vocabular-builder!

  2. Thanks for the comment, saintdufus, and welcome to the site! Interesting distinction between linear and ???lateral??? approaches to handling the words. My experience is similar to what you describe: the story usually takes a while to materialize in my conscious mind (versus forming immediately as I scan the words for the first time) and I spend some time bouncing between the words in no particular order. Usually there is one word that stands out as the tough one, but I haven’t found this tough one to to be the last in the list with the same regularity that cusheamus reports. Seems like a good time to share a bit more from the correspondence that started this post. Cusheamus kept notes about the outlier word for a while and sent me some preliminary observations on Feb 1:—Noticing which word was the one that initially didn’t "fit" into my sentences on the last six days, I got the fourth word three times, and the first, second and third once each. Jobbery (#4) required the whole sentence to be re-worked, cacoethes (#4), vulpine (#4), and putsch (#2) were shoehorned into an existing sentence, and gasconade (#1) and lucid (#3) were just the linguistic equivalent of small hiccups. I’m not sure this is statistically significant yet, but I’m going to keep an eye on it for a while…—Cusheamus mentioned the possibility that ???we have begun to make sense of the words, without even being aware of it, before we even get to the end of the list.??? It’s fascinating to hear how contributors experience the challenge… keep the comments coming!

  3. <html><head><style type="text/css"><!– DIV {margin:0px;} –></style></head><body><div style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:10pt"> <div style="font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 10pt;"><div>Hi Rudi, thanks for your message.</div> <br> <div>I really appreciate the fact that you and cusheamus take these word experiments so seriously. It’s great to be among fellow wordsmiths and logophiles. I’ve long been one myself, and I’m glad to have found others here at Quadrivial Quandary.</div> <br>A few months ago, I decided I was going to look up every single word I came across whose meaning wasn’t 100% clear to me. I started keeping a running vocabulary list, but it quickly grew into a small lexicon–it now has more than 1,100 words in it–and it’s still growing rapidly, because I happen to be reading a ton of books at the moment, and new words appear every day. (When my lexicon reaches 3,000 words, I’m going to self-publish it, just for fun.) So I’m in the midst of a vocabulary explosion right now, which is why it’s such a boon to have found other word-lovers to hang out with.<br><br>Speaking of hanging out: I’m in Boston too! (Actually, just down the road in Arlington.) If you ever want to get together and "talk words" with a fellow logophile, I’m in–just send me an email.<br><br>And thanks again for the great site–I’m having so much fun playing this game each day!<br><br><br> <div style="font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 10pt;"><div style="font-family: times new roman,new york,times,serif; font-size: 12pt;"><font face="Tahoma" size="2"></div></div></div></div></body></html>

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