Monday, July 12, 2021

A Riotous Roundup of Enormous and Explicit Exclamations!


As many of us who grew up reading classic Marvel comics can attest, not only did comic books immerse us in a world of heroes and action-adventure, but we impressionable readers were also finding our minds stimulated in other ways as writers took the opportunity to slip in words and terms which had the curious among us reaching for our dictionaries. And so as a homage to those whose choice of words both intrigued and educated young minds, the PPC has gathered a few scenes from the past where language reigned supreme, and thereby lit the spark of interest and creativity in others.

(A few sparks were flying in that paragraph alone!)

No doubt some of you have your own examples of weighty words which had you flipping the pages of your Webster's as a kid, so I hope you'll chime in with your own. As for myself, here are some instances which came to mind--starting with one which seemed to be all over the place, and often applied to a certain green goliath (or those he battled).

behemoth - a huge or monstrous creature

To this day I still find myself sometimes mentally pronouncing this as a two-syllable word (BEE-moth), when in fact it's pronounced with three, with the accent on the second. Interestingly enough, I have never had occasion to use this word in a sentence--but to see it bandied about in print, you'd think it was common usage. (We should all probably count our blessings that we never found ourselves in situations where the word behemoth was being applied.)

Many red-blooded males surely thought of a few words to describe the vivacious Mary Jane Watson, but I can almost guarantee that one word brought to life by Stan Lee never occurred to us, even though it's completely applicable in MJ's case:

pulchritudinous - beautiful

Wow, Mr. Lee--with such a vocabulary to draw on while introducing yourself to a beautiful woman, your dating life must have resembled something out of "The Grapes Of Wrath."

Thanks to Lee and others, the esteemed villain Dr. Doom also provided more than a few ten-dollar words in his path toward domination:

atavism - a reversion to something ancient or ancestral (i.e., a throwback)

misanthrope - a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society

escutcheon - a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms

Granted, all of Doom's references apply to the Thing in one way or another, but Lee coming up with a "blot on the escutcheon of humanity" feels like it deserves some sort of commendation for the effort.

When it comes to villains, of course, the Mandarin isn't about to be left out of this lineup:

munificent - larger or more generous than is usual or necessary

Another word had the distinction of being exclaimed by villains and aliens alike (that is to say, alien villains):

poltroon or recreant - an utter coward
paal·TROON, REH·kree·uhnt

As Doom demonstrates, it looks like you can use the word "coward" even in instances where it doesn't appear to apply. (Well, at least Doom can, and I'm not about to call him on it.) As for the Super-Skrull, he's really piling it on, using three words which essentially mean the same thing--where any of us who called someone a "cowardly coward!" would look like we were at a loss for words.

The Skrulls are particularly adept at hurling epithets when they're furious--and being Skrulls, it's good to be reminded that they're not restricted to using our pitiful vocabulary when they have their own insulting terms for their foes, or their subordinates.

pronunciation unavailable

The pursuer in question does indeed catch up with the Skrull ship--which means that our unfortunate helmsman had a thousand agonies to look forward to after their mission, which didn't even go all that well for them.

Speaking of someone being at a loss for words, such a phrase might be difficult to apply to Hank McCoy, the Beast, an X-Man who can inject his own verbiage at the drop of a hat (or a threat).

efficacious - effective

perspicacity - having a ready insight into things

sagacious - showing keen mental discernment and good judgment

prodigious - remarkably or impressively great in extent, size, or degree

capricious - given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior

propitious - favorable

Cut from the same cloth would be our plucky agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jasper Sitwell, who tended to try the patience of Tony Stark but proved his worth on many an occasion.

vituperation - bitter and abusive language

You said a mouthful, security officer. (No small feat in this crowd.)

Even our vice-president from 1972, Spiro Agnew, had a tendency to inject a few lengthy words into his comments, which daunted even his Commander-In-Chief:

But the hands-down head-scratcher award for the most unlikely word to pass one's lips goes to Roy Thomas, who took a five-syllable, ungainly word and dispensed it among a number of characters.  Decades later, it also happens to show up in an announcement celebrating Stan The Man's 95th birthday.

brobdingnagian - gigantic

Which concludes this not so brobdingnagian sampling of vociferous mouthings that brought new perspective to our heroes and villains and gave our brain cells a pretty decent workout while enjoying their stories.


Factory Yoyo said...

Boy are you dead on the money with this post!
I often think my excellent vocabulary (as well as a few grammar school spelling bee championships) results from Stan’s love of obscure yet colorful words.


Colin Jones said...

Two words that I first learned by reading Marvel comics are 'intangible' and 'paragon'.

But I first heard the word 'perspicacity' on The Simpsons when Lisa says "Oh no, I think I'm losing my perspicacity" and I didn't know what it meant (but the viewers probably weren't supposed to know what it meant as it showed how clever Lisa was).

Anonymous said...

Well, I already knew the word "poltroon" from Tintin books Comicsfan, but yes - Stan certainly improved my vocabulary when I was a kid. Who says comics aren't educational?

He also gave those of us growing up on the other side of the Atlantic an introduction to (slightly out of date) popular Americanisms.
I recall wondering for some time as a youngster who this 'Nuff fella was who said so much.


Anonymous said...

PS Actually, I'm somewhat surprised there aren't any references to Thor comics in this piece, but verily Stan's faux Shakespearean was more about grammar than vocabulary.
Lo, another post shall that be?


dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

Great post.

I vaguely remember Mary,Jane using t(e word copacetic at some point in ASM #1-175. Can’t pin it down more accurately than that though, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

‘Tis the tintinnabulating truth!

As a ten-year-old sitting in class, the teacher was attempting to find the right word for something, at which I piped up “Suffice, sir?”

A broad smile crossed his face, and he asked how it was I was so well-read.

“Comics, sir!”

The smile evaporated, and the mood was slightly frosty thereafter.

That was in 1970...things might be different now.

Comicsfan said...

sean, methinks not! :) Besides, it's hard to imagine Asgardians having a familiarity with the usage of such words--the exception probably being Don Blake, and, therefore, Thor. And were he to use them, even the most astute Asgardian would respond, "What sayest thou?"

dangermash, I think I might have spotted that word myself while thumbing through Spidey issues for research, though I may have passed it by since it seemed to me like a lot of people were using the word "copacetic" in casual conversation in the mid- to late-'60s. But hey, look on the bright side: since it takes about forty issues for Mary Jane to be introduced in all her glory (and vocabulary), that leaves you just a little over 130 issues to go through!

Anonymous said...

dangermash, Sounds like "copasetic" should be considered a popular Americanism of the period - clearly across the Atlantic we weren't part of the cognoscenti!

Comicsfan, your remark about the mid to late sixties made me realize we would have read a lot of those key Marvels in mid seventies British reprints, so my "slightly out of date" comment could be unfair - Stan may have been more of a hepcat than he seemed.


Anonymous said...

A Marvel fan needed a gosh-darn dictionary to know what was being said!
One word I remember that Stan used was "illumine." I can't remember which comic it was in, but I don't recall seeing it anywhere else.
And it's a real word; I hadda look it up!
Great post, C.F. I enjoyed it quite a bit!

("pulchritudinous"...yep, passed the spell check. It must be kosher.)


Comicsfan said...

Funny how I tend to use "illuminate" more than "illumine," M.P., even though they're both verbs and mean essentially the same thing. Then again, I suppose that helps to explain why I occasionally get some use from a thesaurus. :)

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

You're right CF and there's also MJ's hiatus between the mid 60s and early 80s but I'm not going to look through them all. But I'll come across it one day and when I do I'll be back to this post with the result!

Big Murr said...

These marvellous mouthfuls were always fun "homework". They didn't hold me back too long, with the help of a dictionary.

What always baffled me as a naive young lad in the wide open prairie were Marvel's swinging pop culture references. For example, I had to shrug my shoulders in my early Avengers collecting days when some character made a crack about "Mrs. Peel". I a couple of years of Avengers before I became aware of the British TV show with Steed and Emma.