Monday, November 2, 2009

Vocabulary Improvement

Add vocabulary improvement to the list of benefits derived from reading obituaries.

Take the recent NYT piece on Michelle Triola Marvin, 76, of the landmark palimony suit. Anyone who was instrumental in how affairs of the heart and wallet are settled certainly deserves mention on their passing.

Basically, although never married to Lee Marvin, she sued him when they parted ways. Her lawyer, Marvin M. Mitchelson became famous for arguing that there was an oral agreement between the couple to share, and that now it was time to share. The court didn't quite agree, but the concept was born.

The writer of the piece, Anhad O' Connor, educationally fills us in that word palimony (the $104,00 in rehabilitative alimony that was awarded) is a "portmanteau" of "pal" and "alimony." A what?

Language certainly evolves. A portmanteau is a word that is "designating a morph which represents two morphemes simultaneously." Oh. "Combine, esp. to form one word." Just as I thought. William Safire might have passed away, but help is still being provided, thanks to Anhad.

Since affairs of the heart and their subsequent effect on dividing the pool and landscape can be common, and are a great read when it's a celebrity, palimony is a word that's stuck around. Marvin M. Mictchelsom became so famous that there' s no doubt the George Clooney lawyer in the movie Intolerable Cruelty, Myles Massey, was an alliterative reference to him.

And of course we thankfully have the pair of words "'gal pal" that say so much with a simple pair of three letter rhymes. It's almost like "cat in the hat." Certain newspapers couldn't be without the words. While women can pair off with their "girlfriend" and trot off to the bathroom together, or explore malls, if a guy has a "gal pal" it's likely there's a wink involved and surveillance might be called in.

Michelle Triola Marvin passed away at the home of Dick Van Dyke, her partner for over 30 years. So, at least all "gal pal" relationships don't have to lead to paparazzi frenzies and court. It is still possible to die in peace.

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