Wednesday, July 31, 2013
IT'S ALL ABOUT WORDS
Words have fascinated me as long as I can remember. My mother said I was walking and talking before I reached ten months old, but a serious injury a few months later left me silent until I was nearly two. Between my own curiosity and my older sister's diligence in sharing all she learned in first grade, I began reading at four. I don't recall what I read at that early age except every time my Dad bought gas in the nearby town of Arco I read Boyd's Coal on the side of the building next door and Nehi Orange on the pop bottle he handed me and I had to finish drinking before we left the service station. Several farm magazines, The Children's Friend, and the Saturday Evening Post arrived regularly in our mailbox. My mother had a collection of storybooks she shared with me and my siblings. My older brothers and sister brought books home from school, which I read or they read to me. As you can see, I began reading whatever I could get my hands on at an early stage.
It's not just reading and talking I like, I like words, individual words and words strung together in sentences. Some words feel good to say. Some give me a sense of pride because I can spell them. Some words can brighten an otherwise dismal day. I find it interesting that some words sound like the object or feeling they represent, some don't even come close. Many lovely sounding words have not-so-pleasant meanings. It seems such a shame to waste words like diarrhea and pneumonia on such unpleasant meanings. On the other hand scrumptious just sounds--well, scrumptious. There are some words I avoid speaking aloud because though I know the meaning and the spelling of the words, I've never heard them spoken and have no idea how to pronounce them. It is said that most people have a far larger reading vocabulary than speaking vocabulary. That's certainly true in my case.
Some words cut and hurt. Some are offensive. I try to avoid these. It seems odd that people with the most limited vocabularies are the ones most inclined to depend on offensive words in their communication efforts.
Words go through a sort of evolution, changing with time and succeeding generations. Thongs, square, stud, and so many other words no longer mean the same things they did when I was growing up. In Nephi's day goodly was an adjective meaning someone with a lot of goods or in other words someone wealthy. Later goodly became a measurement signifying a lot of something. Today goodly is often assumed to be an adverb referring to character or behavior and is seldom used in modern written or spoken communication.
The meanings of words are sometimes confused because some words are spelled differently and have different meanings, but sound the same. Unfortunately meanings are sometimes confused because of similar roots. Recently I heard someone referred to as onerous when the speaker meant ornery. And who hasn't heard someone say he or she was nauseous?
Words are powerful. They give us the means to communicate with others. They give us the means to support, show kindness, share our thoughts, entertain, soothe, and work together. Unfortunately they also give us the means to hurt, demean, mislead, misunderstand, bully, and offend others. It's no wonder wise people have cautioned us to choose our words wisely, not say anything if we can't say something nice, and to speak no evil.
Words are, of course, the tools of my trade. Without words I couldn't be a writer. With the passage of years I've learned many words, mostly English (American), but I've picked up a smattering of words in a few other languages and consider myself richer for adding them to my vocabulary. If asked what is my favorite part of writing, I'd have to say words.