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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

I didn't realize it till Saturday, but I have spent a little over three months in self-isolation.

I'm lucky that I can work remotely, unlike many such as my hair stylist who, had she consented to cut people's hair in her home or theirs before salons were allowed to open, could have lost her license. Good thing she didn't, because my head is weird and she understands it.

But none of us work all the time. Some during quarantine have created parody videos, while others have busied themselves taking virtual tours or watching livestreamed concerts (the best kind of concert for introverts, by the way, though the one I tried watching Saturday night was beset by glitches early on). Still others have decided to learn something new, whether it's a new language, how to cook gourmet dishes, or finding obscure words.

Hey, the Word Nerd does what she likes, and she likes words, OK?

As usual, I turn to Merriam-Webster, which at the top of its Twitter page says, "As a gift to our friends (you) in a time of crisis, we'll be keeping a thread here of beautiful, obscure, and often quite useless words." The pinned tweet was published March 19, and was compiled, it says, "by our in-house expert in pointless vocab @ammonshea" (who refers to himself as a "professional annoyance" and researcher ... I want that job title!).

The first word mentioned, "solivagant," seems tailor-made for introverts and anyone social-distancing. It means a solitary wanderer, or rambling alone. Fear not the solitary wanderer, though ... unless he is unmasked, having entire conversations with himself and heading your way.

"Cacography" is something that's probably familiar to a lot of people; while it can mean bad handwriting, it more often (and originally) means bad spelling. My handwriting isn't that great, but it's more legible than my brothers' and my dad's handwriting, and my spelling is better (most of the time). I guess that's why I do the thing with the words now.

I'm certainly no "deipnosophist," one skilled at table talk. While I used to give speeches all the time when I was in high school and college, spending years behind the scenes fed my introvert tendencies to the point that I don't talk much in group settings with strangers (that stroke five years ago didn't help either). Once I get to know you, though, you'll have a hard time shutting me up. Most of the time I am, instead, "scripturient," having a strong urge to write. I much prefer written conversation because I can edit my words as needed. Good luck doing that in an in-person discussion.

I also have the tendency to "cachinnate," or laugh loudly and immoderately--the only thing I'm really immoderate about--and that can cause a lot of glares in my direction (unless you're my former managing editor), so it's best for me to avoid situations that would make me do that.

Though I try, sometimes I can't avoid a "bêtise," an act of foolishness or stupidity, or a lack of good sense. We all do this (ahem, some more than others), sometimes because we believe someone without question or because we harbor the hope that this time will be different (it won't, more than likely).

But commit the bêtise of ignoring good words? Not likely!

I can't go today without making another plea for people to wear masks (if they're able), especially considering the recent increase in covid-19 cases and deaths. To that point, here's something from my life.

I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. If I'm somewhere that it's concentrated, rest assured I'll have a major sinusitis attack within a day, complete with fever and not making much sense at all; even friends and people who work with me every day will back away from the crazy lady.

When I'm out and about in normal conditions, I have to be wary of people hanging out on corners smoking, or those puffing like a chimney walking near me. I try not breathing till I get into the building, but that doesn't help if I'm parked far away, so I try breathing shallowly. But no matter what I do, cigarette smoke will follow me; it's sort of like cats, who know which people are allergic so they lavish their attention on them.

If I go out in a mask, I'm somewhat protected, though not as much as I would be if smokers were behind some sort of enclosed shield. Of course, then the smokers would be trapped in that concentrated mass of smoke and pollutants and perhaps hurry their demise a little bit.

Sort of like people who'd go to an indoor event with thousands of other people not socially distancing, most unmasked, shouting, and spewing their germs into an enclosed space during a pandemic.

I'm not saying that smokers should be stuck in bubbles every time they light up, but it would be nice if more of them took other people's health into consideration. It's the same with masks. Your rights are not being infringed by being asked to do something to limit the spread of germs and shorten the amount of time spent in quarantine for everyone.

I wear a mask when I go out because I care about others. Plus, I look cute in the one with cats on it.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at


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