Say What?

Do you ever think about words? I mean, we all use them everyday, we throw them haphazardly around trying to fill empty spaces. We use and abuse words regularly. Copy them, learn them, recite them and even steal them, but how often do we actually think about them?


What is a word really? Online it is defined as ‘a distinct meaningful element of speech’. I like this definition and wish it was true, but I think that there are a lot of words that are not distinct or particularly meaningful. I mean, what does ‘the’ mean. No, don’t tell me how to use it, or where it needs to live in a sentence, but what does it mean?


Ok, I can feel some of you grammarians bristling a little, but honestly if you were speaking to someone who just refused to use the word ‘the’, you would likely still understand everything they were trying to say.


Also, just coming off of listening to an election campaign, I am completely amazed by how many words can be used without conveying any meaning at all. There is actual a word for when politicians intentionally go on and on, not to say anything, but just to keep something from happening. Filibuster; lots of words, little meaning.


Then there is the distinct part… also not really happening. If you are just listening to someone speak, then ‘there, their and they’re’ are not very distinct at all. Or, in writing, there is a tear on my cheek, but a tear in the paper. Distinct? Really? Or how about, wind the clock when the wind is blowing. I could go on (and on and on) but I will refrain (not the kind that’s in a song).


Do you have a favourite word? I do, I actually have a little collection of them. Many of them are words that are tricky to fit into ordinary conversations. But sometimes I try. Sometimes I think of a word and then see if I can use it in conversations throughout the day. (Yes, this is my idea of fun). Seriously, you should try it. Especially if the word is a little bit extra ridiculous.


Onomatopoeia is one of my favourites. It is so hard to slip into a conversation, but if I manage it, it is like the sweetest victory. It is a lovely word, both innocent and comical all balled up into one.


Some words make me giggle even though there is nothing funny in what they mean at all. Erroneous is a good example. It just sounds silly. I can’t quite take erroneous seriously. Even though it is a word that takes itself quite seriously (if you’re still stuck on that idea of words being packets of meaning and not just a collection of funny sounds).


Superfluousness is another great word (it is almost onomatopoeia), it means over the top, or more than necessary, and if you use it, it sounds over the top, or more than necessary. Kind of like sesquipedalian which is a long word that means ‘long word’, is that truly what the world needs? Maybe not. Is it fun to try to squeeze into a daily interaction? Absolutely!


Then there is the funny moments of collections of sounds that have a vastly different meaning in different languages. Every French Immersion student has wanted to study, or talk about seals at school. When else do you get to say phoque to your teacher? There was also a hilarious moment when I was a teacher in China and we were instructed not to use the word ‘succeed’ in meetings with parents. Meetings with parents were always through an interpreter, as the parents did not speak English, they spoke Cantonese. It just so happens that the word ‘succeed’ sounds an awful lot like ‘eat shit’ in Cantonese. Not exactly something you want to say at your average parent/teacher conference.


This blog actually started out as a blog about the importance of playing and having fun. The problem was that I was finding it really boring to write about fun. Instead, I thought I would start by writing about something that was fun for me and thus this superfluous blog was born.


I don’t use big words because I’m a snob, I use them because I’m a geek. I would rather talk etymology (study of how word meaning has changed over history) then go to the movies or watch TV. There, the secret is out. It isn’t that I’m not fun, it is just that my idea of fun is possibly a little less popular than Justin Bieber (is he still popular).


But, I feel like maybe I’m not alone. There is just enough word porn on social media to make me think that some of you might also secretly love words too.


It’s alright. You’re not alone, come on out and let your inner geek shine (with brilliant flashes of scintillation {which incidentally also has a scientific meaning!})

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