Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Learning something new every day is, by all appearances, a good thing. But it's not without risk.

Today,l while reading a National Geographic article on a healthcare program in rural India, I cam across this sentence: "She is often accompanied by Babai Sathe, an exuberant woman of 47, a bit zaftig, with a toothy smile."

Zaftig. I had to look it up, anticipating it would mean something along the lines of loony, high-spirited, or exuberant (given that the author qualified this lady's zaftigness with the phrase "a bit").


With the delicate, exacting gusto typical of most dictionaries, Houghton Mifflin's American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines zaftig thusly:

1. Full-bosomed. 2. Having a comfortably ample figure.

Using such a word is fraught with risk. One, you have to explain it. Two, given the two definitions, it's clear that the word is unisex, though a male described as zaftig might take offense at the primary definition. A zaftig followed by a zap or a zinger would not be pleasant.

Additionally, it's my experience that you're either zaftig or not, and that there ought not to be any qualifying statements to define one's state of zaftigness, so the author threw me on this. But I did indeed learn something. Now I just have to figure out how to use the word in polite conversation. Outside of a Scrabble game.

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