The Writers' Corner

Playing With Your Words

by Susan Lewis






As a child, any word you learn probably sounds “made up” to you. Think about it. You are hearing sounds put together in ways beyond “mom”, “dad”, and “no”, so new combinations sound a bit awkward at first. Speaking out loud becomes a jumble of actual words and some that quite don’t make it. It can be frustrating when you are small, because you know what the combination of sounds means to you and you think you are saying them clearly, but to the ears of someone who is much older and more experienced, it sounds like gibberish.

As you get older, making up words becomes fun. In fact, it is almost a rite-of-passage when you are in middle school to adopt new words with your culture of friends. And some of these words become posters on the t-shirts you see down the shore. Words like “yolo” (you only live once) and “swag” (a statement on attitude and cool factor) easily make their way into conversations with little need of definition. Every generation has them, and some of words have grown to be so commonplace that they are not only part of the larger population but they even make their way into standardized dictionaries.

Think of how the growth of technology has invaded our speech. Google is the name of a search engine, but “to google it” means to look something up on the Internet. When you ask someone to send you information you easily use the terms “text” and “email”, everyone knows that “spam” is junk email, and to “blog” is to write about something using your own personal spot in cyber space. Even the introduction of the letter “i” in front of words implies that it relates to something new and inventive.

Some words, however, are just grammar gone wrong. NBC on Demand displays the sentence, “Fast forward and other functionality may not be available during this program” (the correct word is “functions”), and I recently heard the term “musicality” in reference to how a song sounded. When words are used incorrectly it reminds me of the stereotypical gangster who tries to use correct language to express his “smartitudes”, but his use of those words actually make him sound more “dumified”.

As a writer, you need to have fun with words. Words are paint on the canvas of your reader’s minds. The more you play the more vivid these images become, and the more invested your readers become in your message. The vocabulary you learn in school, the SAT word of the day, and websites such as Wordsmith.org (they offer a word a day in your email inbox) can help you increase your word supply. Also, don’t be afraid to use a dictionary or thesaurus as you write, because the more words you know the greater arsenal you have to build your story and the stronger your writing becomes.

Think of the three little pigs. The first and second pig used weak material to build their houses, but the third used bricks. These are like your words. Weak words and sentences can be easily dismantled and forgotten, but strong words and sentences are engaging and memorable. Did you ever hear about the little pig’s neighbor who built his house out of leaves? No? Guess he wasn’t interesting enough to be in the story.