Friday, August 6, 2010

The F-Word, Among Others

My boys, ages 8 and 10, are sure they’ve got the F-word figured out. They didn’t know the F-word existed until the eight year-old neighbor boy and the authority on all things forbidden, informed them that this word was the worst word in the world. A Very Bad Word.

“Oh?” I asked casually, calmly, not giving the F-word any weight, or importance, when they informed me that they knew about its existence.

Yup, they had it figured out -- I could tell by the sniggering and giggles. They waited for the prompt. I finally gave it to them.

“So, what’s the F-word?” I asked, genuinely curious. The neighbor-kid has four older siblings and they’re all Navy brats. I was positively sure he’d heard every swear word in the book and had now taught them all to my children. Turns out even he was mislead for my boys beamed at me as they announced the F-word:


Aren’t words wonderful things? Right then I thought Frankenstein was a beautiful word.

I don’t remember when I first fell in love with words, but I can’t imagine them not being an intimate part of my life now. There’s a gathering of words in my head, old friends, and new friends too, who serve me well, keep me company and give me the power to inform others, amuse them, make them soar or plummet with emotion.

Sounds loony. If you’re not a writer I can’t hope to make you understand. But if you are a writer, you probably have the same affection for words, the same predilection for collecting them and employing them for hard work or fanciful fun.

I read recently that 90% of everything we write is accomplished with a mere 7,000 words. In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 171,476 words in current use and another whopping 47,156 words that have fallen from favor and are no longer used. Such a wealth of words and most of us piddle around with the same 7,000 words over and over.

I’m as guilty of this as the next writer. Don’t we all have our darlings? Our favorite words? Is it laziness, or fondness, that keeps me going back for the same words? I know there are times when I stop mid-thought in the writing process, dead in the water, searching for just the right word. The right one for me has certain criteria - it has to sound like me, my voice or the voice within my work-in-progress. I don’t want my writing to sound like a walking, talking thesaurus so I search for the elusive word within my own comfort zone.

This week I’ve resolved to expand that comfort zone. I’m determined to add new words to my stable. With over 200,000 words in the OED this shouldn’t be difficult. Especially since I’ve signed up for their Word-A-Day to be sent to my email. If a word-a-day isn’t enough, I’ll challenge myself with OED’s Oxford Word Challenge, a plethora of word games bound to challenge even the most erudite.

On the other hand, I could just read the dictionary. I’d start with the F-words.


  1. I know how you feel Susan; I love so many words and yet, well, let me put it this way. I was trying to confirm that Adderbury called Charles' walking stick, so I hit Print Discussion, Find 'stick' and what the heck? All instances of the word - except those referring to Charles' possession - were from myself, using stick as a verb. How many times can a person say "stick this scene in" or "stick it in the wip" or "stick that idea there"?
    I've got to start using a more varied vocabulary!

  2. Ah, don't you love it when the kids think they are being so bad, but really, their halos are shining? (g)

    I signed up to the "a word a day" newsletter of a while back and love being reminded of words I've forgotten but really should use, and learning new words altogether. Last week's offerings were: "vainglorious", "jejeune", "odoriferous", "puerile" and "troglodyte" - just magnificent, aren't they? :-)

  3. Ooo! Great words. Especially vainglorious troglodyte.