Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Word Usage

More Conversation about Word Histories . . .


Last Wednesday, the current discussion was begun with the post, Blog Conversation About Word Histories; and, because it received a comment from a reader, I received the impetus that keeps me from starting a different conversation :-) Conversation about word histories

That post actually received two comments; and, I’ll share them after I share just enough of what I said to give them a proper context:

“Consider the idea that words have ‘souls’—the ‘true inner meaning’ of the word…

“Just like human souls, that original inner meaning is still there when the word is very, very old—much has changed about that word’s ‘personality and habits’; but, the inner meaning of its soul is eternally the same…”

I went on a bit about the idea that words have souls and their Etymologies (the histories of their meanings) are their “true inner meanings”…

Now, the first comment from the last part of the discussion:

“And there’s the the pulse of attitude, or vibration, especially with repeated sounds – words, phrases, called mantras in some cultures. They are loaded with usage and can have powerful effects.
“The word ‘soul’ has suffered in modern times, too imprecise, not verifiable by scientific methods – a shame because it sums up the essence of life and being.”

Apart from my feelings that science will one day find a way to “account” for the soul, it seems such a shame that more writers and readers don’t consider the etymologies of words…

Consider the definition of writing and this sentence:

“Susan was writing a letter to Tom in her mind that she wasn’t sure was something she could actually send him.”

We all know writing means something like, “mark (letters, words, or other symbols) on a surface, typically paper, with a pen, pencil, or similar implement.”

But, Susan was writing in her mind—marking words on the surface of ____________?

So, let’s consider the etymology (the soul) of “write” —> “carve, scratch, cut, paint, pull, tug, sketch, draw, design”

And, because Susan was somewhat torn about revealing her mental writing to Tom, could we rewrite that sentence as:

“Susan was carving out a space in her mind that she might not turn into a letter to Tom.”

Or…

“Susan’s mind was scratching out a plea to Tom; but, she didn’t have the will to actually paint the words…”

Perhaps those examples fall short of convincing anyone of the value of etymologies…

Good dictionaries do have appended etymologies; but, the use of a good Etymology Dictionary can be, in my estimation, a transformative experience…

So…

Consider the second comment from the previous discussion of word histories:

“I liked the part that words have souls, just as the 72 year old guy does, subjected to outside influences that continue long after the internal mechanisms for change and initial creation have succumbed to the resultant soul.”

Well…

At least one other soul likes the idea that words have souls…

What are Your feelings?

All it takes is one comment to keep this conversation going………
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“Wordnik Is Looking for a Million Missing Words—Can You Help?”


The title of this post was the subject line of an email I got yesterday. Wordnik

Wordnik is an online dictionary/thesaurus; and, if you didn’t know, a thesaurus is what shows you the synonyms of words. And, Wordnik also shows you a word’s etymology—its word-history

Or, in their own words, “…we’re the world’s biggest and friendliest English dictionary.”

Then, they told me:

“This is just a quick email to let you know that Wordnik launched a Kickstarter campaign today!”

Before I share about the Kickstarter campaign, I should let Wordnik tell you a bit more about itself:

“Every word at Wordnik gets its own full page, with as much data shown as possible: a standard definition (if one already exists), example sentences; synonyms, antonyms, and other related words; space for community-added tags, lists, and comments; images from Flickr and tweets from Twitter; and statistics on usage, including how many times a word has been favorited, listed, tagged, commented-upon, and, of course, whether or not it’s valid in Scrabble (and how many points it scores).”

And, here’s more about the Kickstarter campaign:

“We want to find a million words that haven’t been included in major English dictionaries and give them each a home on the Internet.

“At Wordnik we believe that every word of English deserves to be lookupable!

“The internet is, for all practical purposes, infinite. Wordnik can and should include every English word that’s ever been used.”

Why?

“Every word deserves a recorded place in our language’s history. We want to collect, preserve, and share every word of English, and provide a place where people can find, learn, annotate, comment on, and argue about every word.

“If you want to know more about a word—any word!—we want to help you find the information you need. If you’re curious about a word, why should you have to wait until someone else decides that a word is worth knowing?”

And, in case you need even more reason to go check out the Kickstarter campaign:

“We already have all these words in English! They exist right now in articles, books, blog posts, and even tweets. But they’ve never all been recorded in one place where they can be discovered and loved.

“Have you ever felt that the right word was out there, but you just couldn’t find it?

“Have you ever learned a weird word that made your whole day? Perhaps a word like thoil, which means ‘to be able to justify the expense of a purchase’? Or pandiculation, which means ‘yawning and stretching (as when first waking up)’?”

Here’s Wordnik’s Kickstarter link again :-)
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Blooming Words ! ~~ A Thesaurus That Offers Articles On Writing :-)


In case you didn’t know, a thesaurus is “a book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts” and it comes from roots AuthorMapthat mean “storehouse” and “treasure”

This image is from the Visual Thesaurus.

I encourage you to go there and put your own words in to try it out but you may want to consider subscribing—$20.00/year

When you’re on the Site you can click on any of the words that blossom-out and it will draw a new map with that word in the center—you can filter the map by parts of speech and play with many other relationships of the language :-)

Yet more awaits

But, some of it does need a subscription

Here are a few of the features:

Use words precisely ~ The intuitive interface helps you find words through their semantic relationship with other words and meanings.
Master word usage ~ Roll over a meaning to see its definition and example sentences that express that meaning.
Improve your grammar ~ Meanings are color-coded to indicate parts of speech.
Explore 39,000 proper nouns ~ Historical figures, phrases and trademarks are included. Look up Mozart, Manda or simply, “M.”
Check your spelling ~ The VT suggests a word if you spell it wrong.
Hear words pronounced correctly ~ The VT offers both American and British pronunciations (Internet connection necessary)
Personalize your experience ~ Use the Settings Panel to control font size, filter content, display up to 17 semantic relationships and more.
Connect to the Internet ~ Right-click on any word to launch an Internet search for images or information.
Access the VT from anywhere ~ No software to install, access from virtually any computer with an Internet connection.
Email word maps to friends ~ Share your favorite words with friends and family.
Explore five additional languages ~ Search for words in Spanish, German, Italian French and Dutch, as well as English. (International features are still in beta)
Unlimited access to our magazine ~ Read features about language and the creative process and join a community passionate about words, language and creativity.

So, that last bit—articles in their magazine—some are available without subscribing and here are just a few (with the first paragraph to entice you to click on the link):

The Energy of Writing “In physics class my high school junior year, I learned little, and of that little I remember little. Our brilliant though irascible teacher, Mr. Whitney, did, however, impress me with one fact of nature I’ve never forgotten.”

Lightening Struck: Strange Errors from the College Classroom “I’ve been teaching writing for nearly a decade, but I’m hardly a grammar maven. The fact is, I teach the kind of writing that those down in the trenches—wielding participles and parts of speech—find rather precious: I teach fiction writing, mostly to undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College, where my job is to promote imaginative storytelling, not to improve linguistic mechanics. Consider, as evidence of my approach, that I don’t even own a red pen, or that I couldn’t confidently tell you the difference between a direct and an indirect object. My wife—who does teach grammar—routinely corrects my own miscues around the dinner table. (Once I said, ‘These potatoes came out good’, and almost lost an eye.)”

Spelling, Usage and the Singular “They” “A couple of weeks ago we ran the first part of our fascinating conversation with Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan, an expert in the history of English and a member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel. Here is part two of our interview — a jaw-dropper for anyone interested in language — where we focus on gender, spelling and much more:”

The Noun Game “Everybody knows that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. It’s one of those undeniable facts of daily life, a fact we seldom question until we meet up with a case that doesn’t quite fit the way we’re used to viewing things.”

So, if you go to the Visual Thesaurus and try it out, I’d love to hear your reaction in the Comments :-)
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