I love words. Always have. As a
kid, I loved to do the Jumble in the newspaper every morning, and my mother,
sister, and I would play Scrabble whenever we had a chance. (Those were the
days you played on an actual printed game board!) Even today, I have three or
four Scrabble or Words with Friends games going at once and I do crossword
puzzles incessantly. I just generally love word games. (Word Warp is my latest
obsession, but it’s really not that challenging and is aggravating my carpal
I like words on their own—before they
are lined up and carefully crafted into beautiful poetry or captivating fiction
or thoughtful memoir. I confess, though: I play favorites. My favorites these days are "erstwhile,"
"penultimate," and "extra-canonical." Erstwhile makes the
current list because, although it means “of things past” or “former,” I’ve
always imagined that it has a bit of earnestness to it—former, yes, but with
some eagerness, some desire to please. Ridiculous, I admit, but it gives me a
bit of pleasure whenever I have the occasion to use it.
Penultimate is another word I can
picture in action. “Next to last.” I see penultimate lined up, second to the
end, leaning forward, trying not to be last. Penultimate is a wonderful word to
have at my disposal. As a university press publisher, I’ve been able to see
many multivolume series come to fruition, and there can be a certain sadness
when the penultimate volume is released, for we know the next one will be the
last. Or, alternatively, much joy knowing we are that much closer to completion!
Extra-canonical: "not included
in the canon of Scripture. " I love this word! And I’ve had many occasions
to use it since our announcement of the new JPS three-volume set, Outside the Bible, a collection of the
works not included in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), publishing in fall
2013. This set is an incredible, once-in-a-century compilation of translations
and commentary about works that did not make the cut: what they are, what they
mean, and why they weren’t included in the Bible. As I write this, it is the
third day of Hanukkah—and I'm wondering why weren’t the books of the Maccabees
included in the Bible? Or Jubilees, or the Psalms of Solomon? Or Susanna? Alas, this is fodder for a future
blog . . .
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