How Fiona Apple Enriched My Vocabulary

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Some things should stay in the 90's. Fiona Apple is just not one of them. Although almost exclusively associated with her sultry, somewhat controversial image from those days, Apple has released a few brilliant, masterful albums since then that, tragically, seem to have slipped under the mainstream radar. Possibly, there's a good reason for that; people can't, or don't, often rock out to cerebral, poetically-complex piano ballads. Apple's music demands focus. It demands you mentally and emotionally apply yourself; otherwise the songs will just roll off you like a waterdrop on wax paper. Believe me when I say, if you've ever had a failed relationship, been disappointed or angry with someone, or just been confused and overwhelmed by the world around you, her music is very easy to soak in.

Besides her gorgeous, soulful contralto and mood-driven, sometimes erratic piano-playing, Apple's lyrics are where she really comes to life. If it were available, I would buy a book composed solely of her lyrics and keep it on my shelf with the poetry. Apple is truly an accomplished wordsmith, with many of her lyrics having the flow and internal rhyme schemes of rap or hip hop. For example, taken from the title track of the 2005 album Extraordinary Machine: "I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way/ And say I've been getting along for long before you came into the play." She is a master of wordplay, assonance, alliteration, and putting together unexpected rhymes. In bonus track "Largo" from 2012's The Idler Wheel, she sings, "I was recently rid of a man again/ So I caught me a cab to see Flanagan." Who else would think to rhyme "man again" with "Flanagan"?

Many times while listening to her songs, I've found myself googling some of the words she uses, some of which I had never before heard and many of which I've since incorporated into my personal vocabulary. Below are just a handful of terms I've learned from her songs that I'd like to share, with links to the songs from whence they came (oh yeah-- she uses "whence" too) I challenge you to find these in any other pop songs!

Folderol -- trivial or nonsensical fuss. Showy but useless.
Oh, after all the folderol and hauling over coals stops, what will I do? - Better Version of Me

Orotund -- (of a style of speaking) pompous or bombastic.
Moribund -- in a dying state, near death. On the verge of extinction or termination. Not progressing, stagnant.
You made your major overtures when you were a sure and orotund mutt/ And I was still a dewy petal rather than a moribund slut - Left Alone

Reticulate -- netted, covered with a network, especially having veins, fibers, or lines crossing.
My ills are reticulate/ My woes are granular/ The ants weigh more than the elephants - Left Alone

Valedictories -- biddings of goodbye, saying farewell, of or relating to occasions of leave-taking.
So, couldn't we skip the valedictories/ I can see a door there/ Shut it and forget my number - Left Alone

Derring-do -- daring deeds, heroic daring.
Rigadoon -- a lively dance for one couple, characterized by a jumping step and usually in a quick meter.
Desideratum -- something wanted or needed, a requirement, an essential, an indispensability.
My derring-do allows me to dance the rigadoon around you/ But by the time I'm close to you, I lose my desideratum - To Your Love

Brethren -- (this term is more common, I know, but it is quite unusual for a pop song) fellow members; brothers.
Nothing wrong, as long as he's learning/ Besides, he can take it up with his brethren/ Or with his bride/ Just not with me - Periphery

Imbue -- to impregnate or inspire, as with feelings, opinions, etc.
No thing I do don't do no thing but bring me more to do/ It's true, I do imbue my blue unto myself/ I make it bitter - On the Bound

Stentorian -- very loud or powerful in sound
What you did to me made me see myself something awful/ A voice once stentorian is now again meek and muffled - Oh Well

Whether you want to learn even more unexpected vocab, be constantly astounded by a supurbly-crafted turn of phrase, or just sit in the dark and chain smoke stewing in angst, put on an Apple album. They range from smoky sultriness in Tidal to distilled artistic expression in The Idler Wheel. It's lyrics like these -- and, more accurately, artists like these -- that make you justifiably wary of the radio and prompt you to question why what is quality is not necessarily popular, and vice-versa.

Fiona Apple's discography:
-Tidal, 1996
-When the Pawn..., 1999
-Extraordinary Machine, 2005
-The Idler Wheel, 2012

All definitions are from dictionary.com

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Which Fiona Apple album is your favorite?

  • Tidal
  • When the Pawn...
  • Extraordinary Machine
  • The Idler Wheel
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Apple performing "Not About Love" in 2012

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