It’s a snack! It’s a pet treat! It’s a salt block for a rabbit! It’s none of the above. If you are hearing about, or reading about, the word “niblick” for the first time, you might be curious to know what it is, or maybe you’re well informed and already know. Is it a new dog treat, like Beggin’ Strips? Is it a new snack food for kids? Is it the newest MacDonald’s offering? Does it have something to do with vintage fountain pens? Is it a new oral medication for children? Is it the cure for the recent epidemic of Type II diabetes?
I had once heard this word many years ago, and although I haven’t heard it tossed around regularly, I vaguely remembered it had to do with golf – in context, I had heard it referred to as a “mashie niblick.” I think I saw the word used in a novel I had read, by an English author, with some of the action set in Scotland in the very early 1900s. One of the characters was a golfer. So when a coworker, a golf enthusiast, had a birthday recently, his co-workers decorated his cubicle with golf-themed pictures and quotes. And one of the quotes referred to a niblick. And when he said he was unfamiliar with the term, I was surprised.
Naturally, I did a search on the internet and found all sorts of references and sites to elucidate the uneducated. A niblick is a type of golf club. Sometimes it is referred to as a pitching niblick. Historically, the pitching niblick was a short, wooden-shafted, pre-20th Century club. It had a short shaft that made it the club of choice for chipping and short approaches. In the way it was used, the pitching niblick was most equivalent to today’s wedges. Today, a modern manufacturer makes a niblick that combines the best features of a wedge, putter, iron and hybrid to create an ultimate hybrid scoring club, or so its maker proclaims. It is supposed to hit chip, pitch and recover with improved consistency. Supposedly, it can be used in a bunker or on an approach shot.
So this trivia has once again sparked the word nerd center of my brain, somewhere near the curiosity center and very near that tiny related area that is anatomically unnamed, but has to do with “data so trivial no one else cares about it, but you do because you are an aberrant mutation.” I prefer to categorize it, simply, as a close relative of curiosity. I really don’t want to be categorized as an aberrant mutation, all humor and self-deprecation aside.
This whole “niblick phenomenon” dovetailed nicely with another word nerd event that followed, on the very next calendar day, when I hosted a small Scrabble fest at my house and invited several friends over to play Scrabble. During the game, and while we ate lunch, we shared stories about words and language and one friend related this amusing story about an incident she’d had several years ago in Italy. She was in Italy for an extended visit of a few months, and was practicing her Italian. She was far from fluent but she was coming along, and was proud of her progress. At a social event, she met a young teenager and in the process of getting acquainted she asked him, in Italian, how old he was. A somewhat confused, stricken look appeared on his face ever so briefly but he recovered quickly and replied that he was seventeen. My friend, suspecting she had made some mistake in wording the question, later asked a fluent speaker of Italian what she might have done wrong or how she might have misspoke. She repeated the phrase she had put to the young man. The fluent speaker advised her that she had not asked him his age. Instead, she had asked him how many anuses he had. We laughed and guffawed over this punch line until we cried.
Yet on another occasion, long ago, a friend was making some complimentary remark to me about my vocabulary and how extensive it was. She said she occasionally had trouble following what I was saying because I used words she didn’t know: “sometimes I feel I need a catharsis to know what you’re talking about.” She meant a “thesaurus” and I let it slide; luckily, I did not burst out laughing, but I will say that her malapropism provided me with several moments of amusement as I conjured up a couple of very odd visuals.
This brings me back to that nagging question “what’s a word nerd to do?” Hide your vocabulary and not use it? Hope you can use some of these words in Scrabble and crossword puzzles if you play often enough? Hope to compete in a “Jeopardy!” tournament of champions? Only hang out with other word nerds? Make Mensa your primary social network? Try to become a pen pal of Merl Reagle? Write essays like this and hope someone understands what the heck you are belly-aching about, much less cares? It is certainly not as much of a burning question as how to solve the US national debt crisis, how to end world hunger, or how to solve the burgeoning world population explosion. But still, ‘tis a medium-sized dilemma to a word nerd.
So, if you find yourself colliding socially with someone using words you’ve never heard of, be kind. The person may be a pompous know-it-all or a well-meaning word nerd. In either case, he probably deserves a bit of kindness and patience. These afflictions, though sometimes annoying, are benign and the poor soul is just trying, most likely, to make friends in the best way he knows.