This week I’ve been thinking about words… lots of words. Allllll the words.
Whether you’re tackling NaNoWriMo, are a NaNo Rebel, or like me, registered for a month long playwriting challenge with daily accountability check-ins (!!), November is words month.
I’m a self-ascribed word nerd. When I was a kid, I BEGGED Santa for a deluxe edition of Scrabble. I keep a crossword puzzle book in my nightstand. I follow the dictionary on Twitter. YES, I’M VERY COOL, I KNOW.
So let’s crack open our pocket thesaurus, make a list of our favorite multisyllabic words, and show off our impressive lexicons in The Word Nerd Edition.
Play on Words
It wouldn’t be right to do a Word Nerd edition without discussing the origin of the word “nerd,” would it?
So, no one realllllly knows for sure, but Dr. Seuss gets credit for the first print occurrence of ‘nerd’ in If I Ran the Zoo. Other possibilities include the name of a ventriloquist’s dummy or simple word plays.
The fun thing about words is that they’re all made up. All of them. At some point, someone chose to string together some sounds and voila! New word. That, my friends, is a neologism and the undisputed master of neologisms is William Shakespeare.
… his works provide the first recorded use of over 1,700 words in the English language. — Shakespeare.org
Not only did Billy Shakes give us new words, he coined many of the phrases we use in everyday conversation. This Horrible Histories song about WS is AMAZING.
Shakespeare’s modern competition? The Simpsons. They’ve embiggened our language with scores of cromulent words. Thank Jebus!
Most words — new or otherwise — tend to follow basic and predictable usage rules. There is a notable exception: jawn.
The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact . . . it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.” — Atlas Obscura
And while we’re on the subject of words that break rules, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention contranyms — words that are ALSO their own opposites.
How cool is it that you can say something and know what YOU mean, but other people might think you mean the exact opposite? ISN’T THAT FUN?
Okay, so even though I’m a big fan, I’ll admit that the English language can be challenging. Sometimes, it’s difficult to express yourself with preciseness — be it due to contranyms or because we simply don’t have a word for what we’re trying to say.
It must be amazing to speak a language with words like the Japanese “Boketto” or the German “Kummerspeck” which are so achingly precise.
Okay, lest this newsletter get far too wordy, I’ll wrap it up with this article.
It contains fun theories like the pooh-pooh theory or the ding-dong theory. Work those into conversation and you won’t sound silly, you’ll sound like a legit LANGUAGE SCHOLAR.
Okay word nerds, that’s it for this edition! I know there are quite a few English majors here, so I’m going to post the most accurate meme I’ve ever seen — I’ll let you guess which one I am.
Until next time,
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"Words, words, words"—Hamlet
At least they're (sometimes) useful as in this Life Lesson:
“When all other means of communication fail, try words.”—Anonymous
from "Chicken Little" (2005), an animated fantasy co-written and directed by Mark Dindal:
Communication Insights From Movies: Five Films To Help You Communicate Better
*Perfect* word nerdy content! Thanks so much for sharing that charming Shakespeare song as well :)