Reading this post might be the most useful thing you do today.
Of course, that’s not to disparage what you do every day. I only wish to convey to you the importance of this post, and the beauty of words.
Words are beautiful because they convey much more than a meaning. A word, in the written from, can convey an attitude, even from its lonely spot on a quiet page.
I love writing, and therefore I love words. Perhaps it goes the other way around.
Each and every day I strive to do three things. 1) I try to learn a new word. 2) I try to use a word in an unconventional way. 3) I try to invent a word.
1) Learn A New Word!
This is easy. Thumb through a dictionary and find a word you’re unfamiliar with. Read the definition. Think of the ways in which you could use it. Do a google search of the word and see how it is used. This can be done at any point during your day; on your lunch break, over breakfast in the morning, while sitting on the toilet bowl, so on and so forth. It really takes no effort.
I do this for two reasons. As previously stated, I love words, so I am entertained. Perhaps a more pragmatic reason is that knowing more words allows me to be marginally smarter than I was before I knew them, or at least allows me to pretend that I’m smarter than I really am, because words have power. “Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts,” wrote the fantasy novelist, Patrick Rothfuss.
And many tears they have wrung.
Here’s a word I learned recently: idiopathic, which means: “arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause”. After a google search, I learned that it is used mostly in medical terminology, usually as a prefix to some disease or ailment.
2) Use A Word In A New Way
A bit more challenging to do, but easy if you use words often, whether in speech or writing. Take “idiopathic”, which is primarily medical speak. I used it to great effect once to explain anger that was unfounded – or rather, anger that appeared to be spontaneous and borne of an obscure cause.
“Obviously, those are just words to say, not principles by which anyone should actually abide, least of all the harpies who toss them around in their idiopathic rage.”
Incidentally, I sometimes hate a word when it is used in a new way. The first example I can think of is “feel”.
Here is how it should be used:
“I feel the earth quaking.”
“I feel sad.”
Here’s how it should not be used, but is:
“I feel like he doesn’t like me.”
“I feel like my car is going to break down any second.”
In the first two instances, someone is feeling something physically or emotionally. In the second two instances, “feel like” can and should be replaced by “think“. When someone uses the “feel like” expression, I feel like it is used to remove certainty from the claim that follows. I feel like it might, maybe, be done to remove the responsibility of having to think about anything really. I feel like it might sometimes be done to soften the blow of what is being said. I feel like it is done to maybe add some sincerity to what is being said because the speaker can’t control what he or she feels (feelings, you see, cannot be stifled or otherwise managed – thoughts presumably can.)
Whenever I hear feel like used in speech, I feel like the person talking to me lacks total confidence in what they are saying. This trend of ‘feeling a thought’ used to be pervasive only among younger females. It has since spread to the larger population, to include older females and men of all ages and testosterone levels. Whenever I catch myself about to use it, I spit like an Italian grandmother.
3) Invent A Word
Certainly the most challenging of the three. Anyone can make a baby noise and apply meaning to it, but that is not our goal here. In this situation, you want to take pre-existing words and combine them to make a word that is easily understandable without the use of a dictionary.
Take religiofication, which can only be found in a differently-spelled form on urban dictionary. It has not yet been recognized, to my knowledge, in any formal dictionary. I first saw it used in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer, the armchair sociologist who penned his seminal work while laboring as a longshoreman in San Francisco in the 1930’s. See? Anyone can invent a word (or be a sociologist, for that matter).
In his conception, and in the way I use it, religiofication means “the act or process of assigning reverence to something (a person, an idea, a thing), as with religion.”
Hoffer used the word to describe how mass movements are most successful when they undergo religiofication – only then can mass movements be powerful, because every mass movement requires large numbers of blind followers.
I used it here, applied to democracy.
I encourage you to find a new word. Then use that word, or another you already know, in a unique way. And if you are really up to it, invent a word (and if you’re questioned on it, act surprised that your critic has never heard of it.)