As I was avoiding getting ready for work early this morning, I noticed a theme of posts about “words” showing up on my feed. I always find it fascinating when my reading naturally falls into themes without purposefully meaning to.
The Oxford Dictionaries have named “vape” 2014’s word of the year, explaining that “As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.”
In response to this news, John Kelly wrote and excellent post about the etymology of the word.
Hel Gurney writes, “ALL WORDS ARE MADE-UP WORDS,” explaining how it’s silly for modern writers to complain that the younger generation is ruining the English language:
If English had never changed then we’d all be reading Beowulf without a translation; and yet there’s always someone who seems to think that English-as-it-is-right-now is the pure, immutable, “correct” form and everything after this arbitrary cut-off point is Wrong. All it takes to see the absurdity is to imagine people tutting over Shakespeare for all the words he “made up”.
Gurney also discusses how the creation of new words and terminology can be empowering to marginalized groups by reshaping what is defined as “real.”
“A word after a word after a word is power,” wrote Margaret Atwood (Happy Birthday!) and there is truth to this. Words have power and the way language shifts and changes over time to some degree mirrors some of the power shifts in society.
These coincidental commingling discussions of words lead me to discover Pet Words by Brad Leithauser in the New Yorker. Leithauser writes:
The word “sweet” appears eight hundred and forty times in your complete Shakespeare. Or nearly a thousand times, if you accept close variants (“out-sweeten’d,” “true-sweet,” “sweetheart”). . . . Every poet, every novelist has his or her pet words. Which words these may be dawns on you gradually as you enter the world of a new writer. . . . Either way, you’ll likely discover that your author’s personal dictionary contains an abundance of amiable acquaintances, but a select few intimate friends.
I’ve learned over time that I have my own pet words, which cycle through depending on my mood. The word that most insistently comes to mind is “tether,” which has appeared again and again in several poems. (You can find an example in my poem “Miscalculation“, published on Train Write.) I love “tether” for the way it feels on my tongue, a soft feathery feeling. Something tethered seems to be bound in such a fragile and gentle way, like a boat taping lighting against the dock or a spider web strung between two poles. It’s a word I can’t help but return to, always there waiting for the right moment to slip quietly into the text.
What are your thoughts on words this fine day?