I was sitting at my laptop trying to decide what to blog about. Puppies. Everyone likes puppies. Nah. That will only remind me that I don’t have one (although I don’t need one either). I could talk about the weather. How excruciatingly hot it is outside. But most people probably know that already. Me. I could talk about me. Nope, that’s too narcissistic. Which then made me think about big words. Which led to thoughts about the meaning of words, how words come into existence, how words make us feel, and how I should read Frindle again. Did I lose you? Ok, let’s go back.
Many many years ago when I was only a wittle girl (any Tweety Bird fans in the house?) I read this amazing story titled Frindle. Andrew Clements (my favorite childhood author) wrote this story and I read it about three or four times. In the book, a young grade school boy wonders how words get into the dictionary, and who decides what words we assign to something. He comes up with an idea: create a word that makes it into the dictionary. So, he and his friends start calling a pen a “frindle.” They ask for a “frindle” in the store and use it in regular conversation. I won’t tell you how it ends but it’s very heartwarming and worth a read regardless of how old you are.
What makes the story so provocative is the question it poses to us about language. What makes a word powerful? What gives it meaning? Why do we prefer some words over another? I don’t mean to pull anyone into a deep philosophical discussion on linguistics, but I do think it’s worth noting and considering.
Some of my favorite words are: brilliant, poetic, affirmative, holistic, musicality, and Tuesday (I really really like Tuesday). I like the sound of these words, and the way they look on paper. Words I don’t like include: gout, isthmus, mucus, and totalitarian. Don’t ask me why, they just aren’t my favorites.
It amazes me that arranging the letters L, O, V, and E create a word for one of the most beautiful feelings known to humanity. Who decided love would mean love? One online article discovered that the word “nothing” (as used in Shakespeare’s famous play Much Ado About Nothing) was once Elizabethan slang for “vagina.” Look at what we do with words. Go figure. I guess the whole story behind the words we use today is very similar to Frindle: one person comes up with a word and assigns it a meaning. Once others follow suit, we have successfully given an object, emotion, or situation a name. We have formed a word; a collection of letters that live and breathe contextual or semantic meaning into our lives.
Because of these meanings, words have a strong effect on how we behave, think, and feel. Words tell us to “stop” at an intersection. They tell us how to solve a math problem, they make us feel good when someone says “Congratulations” or when we hear a song. Words also hurt us. Words start wars and revolutions and disagreements. Words can create peace, panic, or poetry. What is even more amazing is that the same words, spoken with a different spirit or in a different order, can incite opposite reactions. And all words, long or short, are enduring. Words.
When I visited our nation’s capitol earlier this month I noticed there were words on every monument. Words that compelled me to think. Words that inspire. As a writer, blogger, journalist, and storyteller words are extremely important. They should be handled with care and used to benefit society. When presented with the opportunity to help or inspire others with our words, we should not shy away. Words make a difference, from the oldest word in Webster’s dictionary, to the words we make up on our own. Most importantly, let’s all remember not to injure with our words. Words are great weapons against evil, ignorance, and injustice, but that is where the verbal wars should end. Mother Theresa pointed out that “Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” I guess some things are better left unsaid.