Words to the Wise

Words matter. They are really all we have as a culture, and a community, to communicate precisely what we mean.

When we write a blog post or a news story or even a tweet, every word is carefully selected and placed…at least it should be.

Yet we all know how easy it is to misconstrue what we read in an email, something we’d probably understand more clearly in a conversation when we can actually hear the sound of someone’s voice, their intonation, timbre, emphasis, volume, speed, cues that don’t necessarily come across in a written text, without the aid of emoticons and various fonts. 

Words matter. It makes a difference who uses the N-word, as radio host Dr. Laura learned this week. It matters whether a Manhattan muslim community center is called a “ground zero mosque,” a term the Associated Press news organization has instructed it reporters to avoid

Words are living things. They not only bring stories alive, but words themselves have a life cycle of their own. New ones are born every day. Some words are literally dying. This week, two related (and word-related) stories and sites caught my attention.

One was the Oxford English Dictionary’s annual introduction of new words into our common lexicon. It should be no surprise that vuvuzela made it into popular prose, as the World Cup runneth over our collective ability to hear, thanks to the plastic trumpet tooted all over South Africa. Other new entries, from tweetup to turducken, frenemy and bromance, are listed here.

Meanwhile, the Oxford University Press has also introduced a very cool site to commemorate and keep words that are fading from common use. Lest we forget sturionic, plenisphere, pamphagous and other lingua lost. Say what?

The Save the Words site starts off with a wall where words, like animals at a shelter, are  begging to be rescued. It also includes a campaign to get users to “spread the word,” and make use of words to prevent them from being lost forever. The site has fun suggestions for reviving dead words, including graffiti, skywriting, pet names, tattoos and texts.

Most of all, the site is creative and fun and you’ll probably spend more time on it than you realize, reading between the lines for a single familiar word. And you might just adopt a cute little word and take it home with you.

What words would you like to save? What words would you retire once and for all?

I’ve been playing a ton of word games with my kids during this week’s family vacation: Boggle, Quiddler, Scrabble Slam, Bananagrams, My Word, Apples to Apples. My 7-year old has been finding the word “damn” and “fart” over and over again. It’s getting a little predictable. But she’s also discovered that “sequoia” uses every vowel in a single word. That’s pretty cool. 

Word up.