by Melinda Gallo

Barbara Wallraff at the British Institute of Florence

I had never been to the British Institute of Florence before, so when our new friend Barbara Wallraff told us that she would be speaking there, I was excited to go. Barbara is the Word Court and Word Fugitives columnist for The Atlantic Monthly and the author of three books. She's currently living in Florence with her husband.

We unfortunately arrived a half an hour late, and I wrongly assumed that they'd start a little late. Even though we are in Italy where sometimes thing start a few minutes later, it started at exactly 6PM. I forgot that the British are known for being quite punctual. The room in which Barbara was speaking had shelves of books going around the entire room. The shelves went as high as the ceiling, which was at least 20 feet high. I loved the feeling of being around so many books.

The room was filled to capacity, and when I spotted two chairs toward the back, I headed toward them. The man sitting there moved over to let us in. I'd say that there were at least a hundred of us in the room.

Barbara spoke about how we words are created and how they get adopted into our American dictionaries. Mostly, it seems, words that are less used are added more easily to the dictionary than words that we use more. She talked to us about sniglets, which are words that are not in the dictionary, but that should be.

I learned about the American Dialect Society, and how they award a new word each year. Last year, "Plutoed" won the 2006 Word of the Year. Now, I just have to find the right time to use it.

She talked to us about her column where she asks for suggestions on words to define things we do, like when you doze off to sleep and you jerk your head back up suddenly. My favorite suggestion was "catsnap."

The talk ended after an hour. I had hoped it would last longer, but after an interesting question and answer period, we had a light aperitivo.

Dave and I met Barbara and her husband Julian a little over a month ago, and we hit it off immediately. We decided to grab a bite that night at the end of our meeting. Almost every week since then, we have met up with them to get together and to try out new restaurants around Florence.

Meeting people that I probably wouldn't have met anywhere else is one of the greatest perks I've experienced living overseas. When I lived in the States, I met people at work, at any classes I took, and in my neighborhood. But, out of my own milieu, I didn't have the opportunity to meet as many people as I have since I've been here.

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