© 2012 by Marv Goldberg

Quick, what do the following have in common: "vagile", "oniomania", "nosopoetic", "formication", "digamist", "bissextile", "cisvestite", "sitophobia", "venereal nouns", "aprosexia", and "turdiform"?

If you guessed that they're all examples of "klang", then stop reading immediately, you're scary enough right now!

What is klang? No, it's not the sound made by a trolley bell (well, maybe it is, but that has little to do with our purposes). It has to do with a word that gives a false impression of its meaning. For example, when you see the word "klang", you immediately think of a bell (which means that "klang" itself is an illustration of klang). You wouldn't even think that there was another meaning. But if you saw the sentence "Fred thinks that formication is an excellent example of klang", you wouldn't have the foggiest notion of what I was talking about (assuming that you do at the best of times). Under the heading of "You Can't Judge An Online Help File By Its Cover", let's take a look at some examples of klang.

Since I've already introduced formication, I might as well explain that it means "the feeling that ants are crawling all over you". Even if you know that Formica is a genus of wood ants, you'll probably do a double-take every time you see formication in print. That's klang.

How about oniomania? You'd doubtless guess that it has something to do with toppings on your fast-food hamburger, but you'd be wrong. It actually means an irresistible urge to buy things. But the next time you see it (and I'm sure there'll be a next time), you'll still think hamburgers.

And vagile doesn't mean what you think either. It describes a creature that's free to move around its environment. It's the opposite of sessile, which means "rooted to the spot" (kind of like me when it comes to exercising).

Are you a digamist? Unlax (as Bugs Bunny would say), they won't throw you in jail for it. It simply means someone who's been married twice. No stigma attached, but when you saw the word, there was probably a quick negative reaction on your part.

Could you wax nosopoetic? Doubtful. You'll hear no odes or couplets here, just the sounds of people running in terror from you. It means "disease-producing".

You probably think you've got me with bissextile. Nah. It's just a fancy word for a leap year. But it sure sounds provocative, doesn't it?

And would you fret if you knew someone who was a cisvestite? Well, maybe, but not for the reasons you might guess. This term applies to someone who dresses weirdly or inappropriately, usually with the goal of looking younger (think grandma in a bikini).

At first glance sitophobia looks like it would have something to do with fear of the Internet (and if there's no word for that there sure should be!). Even when you know that it's a morbid fear of eating, you'll still probably make the wrong association again next time you see it.

What about turdiform. How, you ask, can they allow such filth in a family publication? Hah! Gotcha again. All this one means is "shaped like a thrush". (Now look. If you're gonna bother me with dumb questions like "Why would anyone need a word for 'shaped like a thrush'?", I'm not gonna play with you anymore!)

Do you suffer from aprosexia? You do if you haven't yet figured out that it doesn't mean what it looks like it means. While you probably won't remember it by the end of the next paragraph, it's simply an abnormally short attention span.

How about venereal nouns? Save your money; no penicillin needed here. This is the term used to describe groups of animals. Herd, gaggle, pod, and pack are all venereal nouns.

Catching on yet, gang? What all these ravings translate to is that you really have to be careful what you write. Sure, you know exactly what you mean, and because you know exactly what you mean, everyone else (read: "the Poor Bewildered Customer") knows exactly what you mean. Think again. Go back and reread my first paragraph. Do you remember the definitions of all those words (no reason you should, of course)? Are you seeing each one as just a neutral word or are meanings based on the "look" of the word getting in the way?

English is a huge, complex language and there's usually more than one way to say something. Forget the spell checker; dump the grammar checker. Instead, take the time to actually read what you write. While I realize it's difficult to be completely objective about your own writing, you at least have to try. That's part of putting customers first, isn't it?

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