Several years ago, when my father was in his mid-80s, we visited an attorney and had some legal papers drawn up. Before signing the documents, the attorney talked about the need to confirm that my father was “of sound mind.”
My father was of sound mind, but he was a little deaf. Repeating the attorney’s question, I said (loudly and slowly), “Dad, he wants to know that you’re of sound mind.”
“Okay,” he replied. “What do you want me to do?”
“Spell ‘lugubrious,'” I said, and then paused before adding the challenge.
My father grinned from ear to ear. This was easy for him.
In less than three seconds, he rattled off the letters as if he was reading it from a paper.
The attorney put his pen down for a moment and looked astonished.
“I’m quite sure I couldn’t spell that word forwards, and I know I couldn’t do it backwards. Heck, I’m not even sure what it means.”
My father was on a roll.
“Lugubrious,” he said purposefully, “Sad, dismal or mournful, sometimes to an exaggerated degree.”
My father, who helped fuel my love affair with words, had the most expansive vocabulary of anyone I’ve ever known. And in his 85th year, his vocabulary was so well established in his mind, he could rattle it off backwards and forwards. Literally.
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