I have this memory of when I first seriously started novel writing. I read an article or a web-post or something—my memory is a bit blurry—what I do recall was that the article talked a lot about words, about how each word has its own unique meaning. While the meanings of words may be similar or may be used interchangeably, no two words mean exactly the same thing. They may seem like they mean the same thing, but in some situations one word will be more appropriate than the other.
It was like a light went off in my head. I realized that words weren’t just words…they were tools.
I think one of the reasons I am such a slow writer is that I am constantly searching for the right word—usually in my head, but sometimes in the Thesaurus. Wait…yes I know…I’m not supposed to worry about things like that in a draft. I know that, I remind myself of that, and yet….
The challenge in writing is that words mean different things to different people. It depend on the person’s filters—filters include the experiences, feelings and values that shape us (culture, socio-economic status, education, location, etc). To each person every word has its own connotations, implications, associations, and impressions.
It is interesting, though, how few people pay attention to the words they chose to use. Think about an email you received, what you hear in the evening news, the lyrics of the songs on the radio. Some of it just doesn't make sense (have you listened to Lady Gaga?).
Some people use the same words all the time: It was a really big storm with really big snow drifts and we had a really hard time getting in to work today. I mean…sigh…seriously? Isn’t there a rule against using the same word more than once in a sentence? There are so many words out there why don’t we use more of them!
According to Oxford, at the very least there are “a quarter of a million distinct English words” [http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts]. This doesn’t include technical or regional words or words not yet added to the published dictionary. It also doesn’t take into consideration the various meanings of words (i.e. homonyms or slang uses) or even words borrowed from other languages.
Don’t even get me started on chat room talk (BRB, LOL, ROTFLMAO)—I use them, love them, but are they words? (The answer to this questions may depend on your age!) They are so common in conversation now I bet we'll find them in the dictionary before long (if they aren't there already).
Then there are those people who use words they don’t understand. We all know someone like that! Don’t forget the individuals who use words that only they know the meaning of. Try using dacrygelosis in a sentence. You just can’t do it, not unless you want to clear a room—actually that might come in handy… [There is an online resource for everything and I found one on obscure words: http://www.kokogiak.com/logolepsy/ow_d.html]. For those of you who are wondering, dacrygelosis is a noun meaning: condition of alternating laughing and crying (I kind of like it).
And where did all these words come from? Why do we have different meanings for the same word? Who decided to spell it that way? Why do we have three words to describe the same thing! Perhaps this is my favourite thing about words—etymology!!!
I looked up the word romance at http://www.etymonline.com/. Interestingly enough, the Online Etymology Dictionary says: c.1300, "story of a hero's adventures." It goes on to say that it wasn’t used to refer to a “love story” until the 1660s (to help you put that in perspective, Shakespeare died in 1616). For all of you IT buffs (or those of you who’ve been to the movies lately) I thought it would be interesting to look up avatar. You think it is a modern word created for gamers? Think again. Actually, it dates back to 1784 and refers to “descent of a Hindu deity.” What about the word word? Surely that is an old word. No, actually words predate `word`, which according the dictionary originated around 1462.
So bloggers and blog readers (fyi: blog is short for weblog and was first used in 1998), what is your favourite word?
[I’ll tell you that my least favourite word at the moment is Toshiba since I can’t turn off the French keyboard on my laptop…]