This morning I’ve been curled up with Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Written way back when, it’s one of those novels crammed with antiquated words that I’ve never seen before but which still look vaguely familiar. “Pollarded” for example. What on earth does that mean? I run through the possibilities…could it be a hybrid of pillaged and horded? Could it possibly be related to collard greens? Or simply poll maybe? How about lard? And so on.
When confronted with such strange partnerships of vowels and consonants, I feel an urge to look up the word in the dictionary but hardly want to put down my book. Sometimes I flag the page and look it up later, having an “Aha!” moment when I realize the kernel of meaning I’d missed. Sometimes it’s an “Aha! I knew that already!”; more often it’s a “Aha! That makes sense with the context…but how on earth was I supposed to know?”
The whole thing is discouraging. What are the chances I’ll ever see “pollarded” again? Or even remember it? My old German teacher once told me that you have to hear a word used 5 times before you remember it. Five times! This may be true in normal circumstances, but after unearthing my dictionary, looking up a word, and rereading the passage it came from, it usually stays with me…if only out of sheer irritation. Inevitably though, it proves worthwhile because I end up using them in new ways just for fun: “Oho! Look who got pollarded!”, or whenever possible, as a fist-shaking curse: “You pollard!!!”
To help you build your own repertoire of fist-shaking curses, here’s the definition of pollarded from Webster’s:
Pollard n. 1. a tree cut back nearly to the trunk, so as to produce a dense mass of branches. 2. a hornless stag, ox sheep, etc. –v.t. 3. to make a pollard of. [1515-25]