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I love Words

March 9, 2011
scrabble

Power of words Photo Credit: Ultra Mega Power Scrabhow a child solves problems. The world is our catnip.

Writers are inspired by everything. We might be drawn to how a dog sniffs his way around a park to how people move down crowded rainy streets. Me, as much as anything else, it’s words.

I love words. So many words, such a small dictionary.

I subscribe to all sorts of Word-a-days. I adopted an arcane word–utible–and attempt to use it weekly (daily turned out to be non-utible. People get angry if you use words they don’t understand. Even the members of my writer’s group pushed back on me). I love finding new words that say exactly what I mean. How about abecederian? Make a guess what that means and you’re probably right. It rolls off your tongue like it’s meant to be.

I have a pretty good vocabulary. A first-grade student uses roughly 1,000 words. A college grad uses ten percent of the 50-70,000 in the dictionary. I’m at the upper end of the ‘college grad’ category not in my spoken language nor my written, but in my knowledge. I have a list of about five hundred fun words—those multi-syllable ones that so perfectly fit a situation, but who would ever come up with them?

I love finding authors who aren’t afraid to use rare words in their writing. Elizabeth George is one. Another is Ted Bell, creator of Lord Alexander Hawke and his merry escapades. I’m reading his latest novel, Warlord and to my joy, ran across one of my favorite words—demesne, as in personal domain and pronounced ‘demain‘. When I discovered this word several years ago, I attempted to use it in conversation (to get comfortable with my new discovery). I walked through my backyard with my husband and told him I was surveying our demesne. He didn’t know this word, so I spelled it and it became our joke to pronounce it phonetically–demesne (speaking the silent ‘s’).

What fun when I found this very word, used in context, in Ted Bell’s book Warlord, written as though it was just another lordly elocution. But then, that’s Bell. If you haven’t read him, do. He’s a wonderfully accomplished action-thriller writer not afraid to challenge readers with interesting words.

I’ve written a lot in my blog on words—and to my amazement, find them my more-popular posts. Check these out:

On the other hand, words are not as powerful–with apologies to all my writer friends–as a well-timed silence. Consider this from Martin Luther King:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

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8 Comments
  1. March 9, 2011 12:26 am

    I luxuriated in your post! Thank you for gushing about words. I love my thesaurus and dictionary, but I’m not good at remembering my finds, and I lack courage. I’m terrified I’ll say something taboo when I mean to say something clever. What would we be without words? Sad and mute.

  2. March 9, 2011 2:15 am

    The French call a literacy primer an abécédaire. And have you heard of the German sect of the same name. They were so called, because they rejected all human knowledge as only God could enlighten them.

    Like you I love words. Another author who’s not afraid to use hard words is John Banville. I read his novel ‘The Sea’ a couple of years ago. Can’t say I liked it that much, but it did set me off on a word hunt in my dictionary.

    In France a well-known author and member of the country’s academy writes books in which he gives words a life of their own. Extremely funny and entertaining. It even inspired me to try writing a few similar pieces myself.

  3. March 9, 2011 2:53 pm

    Thank you so much for encouraging writers to use all the words they know – for some reason I feel like we live in an age where we’re not supposed to risk challenging our readers or prompting them to grab a dictionary. Big words = bad reviews these days. It’s just dreadful. I’m sharing this post wherever I can.

  4. March 9, 2011 5:54 pm

    Hi Faith–gushing is the perfect word for my affection for words. It’s contagious you know. My daughter regularly calls me to ask about some word she read in a book. So much fun. Thanks for commenting!

  5. March 9, 2011 5:56 pm

    Hey Paul–I didn’t know the root of my new favorite word, abecederian. Thanks. I think those of us who spend a lot of time researching for their stories are forced to fall in love with words. So much of scholarly research is technical. I better know my prefixes and suffixes or I have no idea what they’re saying. Thanks for the comment.

  6. March 9, 2011 6:39 pm

    Thanks, Cayla. Nice to know a fellow risk-taker, may I say bibliophile. I think people are reading more–partly thanks to ebooks–but that doesn’t mean they’re expanding their language. I’m always surprised by the words people don’t understand I think our common. C’est la vie.

  7. March 13, 2011 9:06 pm

    How ironic that I come across this just after I finished “Glamour of Grammar.” If you haven’t read it, I think you would find it a delight. You can also find “Word of Our Day” and “Word of That Day” on butifandthat dot com. I completely relate to your note about adopting an arcane word, then applying it for a week. That sort of practice has come in wonderfully handy to me when it comes to poetry. Of note, I just found the perfect fit for the word “saturnine” in a creative nonfiction piece that described the baleful funeral singing of my Hawaiian relatives. If you’re really into words, check out the Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, if you haven’t already.

  8. March 14, 2011 5:31 pm

    Good suggestions, Aaron. And what a great word–‘saturnine’. I love the sound of it. I can’t wait to try out the Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily LIterate. It goes along with Oxford’s Dictionary of Difficult Words. When I bought that book, I spent hours reading it. What joy!

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