Sunday, April 10, 2005

Copacetic

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Since I was a little girl, I was always impressed with people who used "big words"--they sounded intellectual, interesting, and whether or not they used their big words correctly wouldn't have mattered to me because I usually didn't know the difference.

I was a voracious reader while growing up, but was too often lazy to reach for the dictionary for words I was reading whose meaning I didn't understand, and so I just guessed the meaning in context. But in university and in my job as copy editor, I learned I really needed to use a dictionary to get the correct meaning.

It seems to me, and I was discussing this the other day with an editor, that we (he and I) use "big" words when we write, rather than when we talk. Neither he nor I could account for the difference, but it's been the pattern we've seen develop.

These days, I'm always looking to find a new word to use in my writing or in my conversations. And I came across one that sort of turned my head...

Some time ago, I yelled over to my fellow copy editor (who happens to use a lovely vocabulary) over the "walls" of our "offices," "How are you?" and heard her answer with this: "Copacetic." "What did you say?" I asked back. "Copacetic" was her reply.

I thought to myself: "Where does Val [a non-Jew] know Hebrew from?" I was impressed, got up, went around the wall, and said "How did you know to answer me in Hebrew, and correctly?"

"What Hebrew? I said c-o-p-a-c-e-t-i-c."

"Ohhhh," I said, blushing two shades of red. "It sounded to me as if you'd said 'Kol b'seder,' which means 'everything is okay'. "

I looked up the definition in Webster's and saw this for copacetic: adj. (origin unknown), very satisfactory. Okay, Hebrew speakers, tell me that "copacetic" doesn't sound a lot like "{ha}kol b'seder". With its origins being unknown, perhaps it does stem from the Hebrew language...

In any case, I hope that everything in your life is c-o-p-a-c-e-t-i-c.

9 comments:

Chai18 said...

hahah great story!

tuesdaywishes said...

That is funny! I know that using "big words" in conversation is unusual, but my family still does. My kids know that other people think they talk funny; they even make fun of themselves sometimes. Here is a favorite nursery rhyme translated into what they call "Geekspeak":

The miniscule arachnid ascended the precipitation collection device,
The precipitation descended and displaced the arachnid,
The source of solar energy emerged and evaporated the precipitation,
And the miniscule arachnid resumed its ascent.

If you think that's funny, wait until you hear "Row,row, row your boat".

torontopearl said...

Does the GEEKSPEAK version work with the hand motions, too? I'm laughing, and singing your version to the tune of "Eensy Weensy Spider..." to see how well it works.
You ARE raising genius kids if these are your bedtime and playtime songs. The closest I got to foreign sounding children's ditties is singing the Polish and Swiss versions of "Frere Jacques"!

PsychoToddler said...

Tuesday's kids are supergeniuses. Although they sometimes miss the obvious. Once,when they were at my house, my wife came in from work. Dressed as a nurse. Because, you know, she's like..a nurse.

One of our nephews looked at her and asked her what she did. She asked him to guess.

"Are you a spy?"

Chaim said...

I got nothing to say, as I hardly use such large and impressive words, except for Superfragelisticexpeladocious (sp?) :-D

Oh, and Welcome Back.

tuesdaywishes said...

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in my daughter's book...as though anyone cared.

PsychoToddler said...

I think it was rhetorical.

Anonymous said...

Dear Toronto Pearl:
I love your blog and have been reading it since my daughter (you know her as M) directed me to it. I had to right because I had the exact experience with copacetic- I too thought those saying it were speaking Hebrew and when I learned the meaning-(way after my daughter learned the meaning I am sure) I was aghast!
Thanks for your site and your wonderful comments on Ink As Rain-
M's Mother

brad said...

I'm pretty sure that my 9th grade history teacher used copacetic as an example of a word coming from Hebrew into English. He thought it was well established that it was the african american workers who picked it up from their Jewish bosses who first turned it into the vernacular. Google it, see what comes up.