Tuesday, December 11, 2018

...in everlasting words... by Liz Flaherty

"A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day." 
 Emily Dickenson

As a writer, words are some of my favorite things. I love word games even though I'm not good at them. I love looking them up, using them in sentences, using ones in writing that I wouldn't use in conversation because...really, extrapolate? I can't even pronounce it correctly.

It's an ongoing thing. All the way back in first grade, when we got our first paperback Dick and Jane readers, I fell in love with words. The first word in that little gray book was look, and I've been overusing that word ever since. When I write a book, I have to do a global search and remove at least half of them. This shortens the book considerably, but probably helps the story.

Words can give you power, whether you realize it at the time or not. If someone tries to make you feel stupid--and they will--just add some syllables to your response. Just be sure you know what the polysyllabic rejoinders mean, or you'll sound as stupid as someone might be trying to make you feel.

Sometimes, like if you say "philatelist" instead of "stamp collector," you just sound kind of snotty. (You probably really don't, but since I'm not sure how to pronounce that, either, I just threw that in. You should hear me butcher juxtaposition and numismatist.)

I'm a fan of euphemisms, too. Of curse words that aren't quite as...cursey...as others. They probably are. I'm sure freaking is every bit as profane and intensely meant as the word it replaces, but I'm a lot more comfortable with it. So are others of us who thought the use of certain four-letter words was a certain path to hell. I mean heck.

My love of words has never lessened even as it has become harder to think of the ones I'm looking for when I talk and write. The correct term usually remains stubbornly on the tip of my tongue or locked into my keyboard, but the rightness of an expression is still like music.

What I don't love is the the hijacking of words for disparaging purposes. I've been tired of being called a snowflake for a couple of years now, yet snowflakes are beautiful things, art objects within themselves, clean and bright and perfect.
So maybe that's okay. If that's not how you mean it when you're talking to me...well, look it up.

The word retard became something ugly because of misuse. Having its second syllable appropriated to use as an epithet--libtard or Dotard anyone?--added insult to injury to a word never intended to be pejorative.

I don't love many cutesy new words, either, ones that are added to the dictionary each year because of their common use. Why can't we just use them a while and then let them fade into the wayback of our lives, never to be thought of again. Oh, yeah, wayback is one of those new words, even if Word doesn't know about it and scolds me with a red squiggle. It means "the area in the back of a van, station wagon, or SUV." However, I like the way I used it and the way they used it in the "wayback machine," so maybe we can add a second meaning to its definition in Merriam-Webster. 

That's probably how people turned snowflake into an epithet, isn't it? They liked the way it sounded, the feelings it stirred up and hurt, the divisiveness it deepened. 

I wonder if it's how homosexual became gay and queer and someone long ago thought the n-word was common usage and okay. 

Words will always be some of my favorite things, but putting thought with them is an even bigger favorite. We should all try it sometime. 

Title of this post taken from a line in the Bee Gees' song, "Words," with thanks.


  1. I love words, especially the learning of new words. And I know I don't always reach for the exact word I need because it's easier to use something else...maybe I need to change that.