Becoming a 50-cent intellectual

Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m the furthest thing from a shopaholic.

I’ve got all the furniture, kitchenware and clothing I’ll ever need. When the time comes, downsizing is going to be a snap for me.

Except for one major achilles heel. Leaving me alone in a used book store (as opposed to a used bookstore) is like an unsupervised child in a candy store. The only difference: the kid in the candy store has better impulse control.

It’s not just that I am incapable of walking past a place that sells old books. Once inside such an establishment, I cannot stop myself from purchasing something, or more often several somethings.

On a recent foray into a local used book emporium I caught sight of a pristine copy of Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals. And just in case I didn’t know what a thesaurus’s purpose is, the cover was emblazoned with the words, “Synonyms, antonyms, and related terms that every smart person should know how to use.”

Since I’ve always wanted to be a smart person, or at least appear to be one, I grabbed that book, raced up to the cash register, and paid its marked price (50 cents!) before some other thrifty aspiring smartie beat me to it.

Curious to learn about what words and terms smart people use, I opened the book to a random page (40). I wasn’t impressed, since I already knew “aware” means to have knowledge of something through alert observation or interpretation of what one sees, hears, or feels. I was also aware (see what I did there?) of several allegedly highbrow synonyms, like astute (quick to learn or grasp; shrewd; sharp-witted), cognizant (aware of the realities of a situation; well- informed), and discerning (showing good insight, judgment, and understanding; discriminating). But my inner inferiority complex began rearing its ugly head when I didn’t recognize some of the words deep thinkers use to describe an astute, cognizant, and discerning individual, including pervious (open or accessible to reason, influence, or argument), sentient (having or capable of perception or feeling; conscious), and perspicacious (characterized by keen mental perception and understanding).

Flipping to page 87, I shrugged at the definition of consistent, an adjective meaning “holding to the same practice or principles; constant adherence; compatible.” Duh! Who doesn’t know that? But as for its synonyms, not only had I not known the meaning of “isochronous” (occurring consistently at regular intervals), it took me several tries to even pronounce it correctly (EYE-so- krone-us).

Frustrated, I flipped to the end of the book looking for synonyms for the word “young.” Given that it’s been our family’s last name for quite some time, I was confident that even the scholars who put together Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals wouldn’t be able to come up with a synonym I didn’t know. “C’mon, geniuses,” I thought, “bring it on.” I knew all about youthful, boyish, juvenile, immature, callow, developing, raw, little, and another dozen or so similar terms.

But to my horror, there weren’t any synonyms for “young.” The last three words deemed worthy of having their synonyms listed in the 442-page, alphabetically- arranged tome were “work,” “worthless,” and “writing.” Apparently the eggheads working for Roget don’t feel that “young” merits inclusion in their obviously nugatory (a synonym for worthless that I picked up on page 419) book.

Okay; so maybe I’m not a genuine intellectual. But I’m sentient enough to recognize a gimcrack (a showy object of little or no value) when I see one.

And besides, I’m still way more perspicacious than any kid in a candy store.

Andy Young
January 7, 2024

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