Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: word

“A word to the wise ain’t necessary…”


That title is only the beginning of a quote from the comedian Bill Cosby.

Here’s the full quote: “A word to the wise ain’t necessary—it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.”

And, to be honest with you, our current world culture is full of folks who are in charge but are eminently stupid.

Let’s check a dictionary for “stupid” and compare it with the actions of just one group of people who are, sadly, “in charge”—financiers.

STUPID = “Lacking or marked by lack of intellectual acuity; in a state of mental numbness especially as resulting from shock; lacking intelligence; and, devoid of good sense or judgment.”

You may not agree with my assessment of financiers but using dictionaries is undeniably important in Reading, Writing, and Publishing—the three main topics of this blog.

Last year, I wrote a post called Dictionary Evangelist. I do hope you’ll take that link and watch the video there—go ahead—I’ll wait right here

So, that was Erin McKean, a founder and the CEO of the online dictionary Wordnik and, previously, the Principal Editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary.

Wordnik is irrevocably Cool since it’s a dictionary that you can add words to—based on Erin’s philosophy that dictionaries shouldn’t be compiled by traffic cops but by folks who fish

This woman is definitely a phenomenon since she’s not only a celebrated lexicographer but also writes for The Boston Globe and has had a blog about dresses for 7 years ( A Dress A Day ).

Plus, she has a great article in The New York Times called Using Undictionaried Words—here’s an excerpt:

“…serve as your own lexicographer and shine your own light on largely undiscovered words. For it’s a kind of lexical Catch-22: since editors at most traditional dictionaries won’t include a word until they see published evidence of its use, holding off on using a word just because it’s not in the dictionary can actually delay its inclusion.”

Not hard to see why I, a man whose favorite word is “word”, find this woman’s work fascinating
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

What *Is* The Right Word, Anyway?


Whether you’re a writer looking for the right word or a reader wondering what that particular word means, dictionaries can be handy.

Still, dictionaries have been mere snapshots of an ever-changing language

In the previous post, Dictionary Evangelist, there was an entertaining video of lexicographer, Erin McKean, who thought it was important to have a dictionary to which words could be continually added. Do checkout her creation, Wordnik, and add a few words :-)

I use a free program called WordWeb on my computer (which, sadly, is only for PCs) that lets me check spelling and meaning by highlighting any word in any program or web page and clicking a couple keys, voila!

And, if you want to trace the historical meanings and roots of words, even though many dictionaries have some of that, you might use an Etymology Dictionary.

Speaking of history, and staying with English, there is the famous dictionary of Samuel Johnson from 1755.

Going further into history and delving into the trials and challenges of lexicographers, spend some careful reading time with the Preface to Johnson’s 1755 dictionary.

Care to share any really strange words with us in the comments?

Have any words you’ve created that you’d like to see in the language?

Any words you think should be banned?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Why Do Humans Write?


Gwenette WriterSinclair is a friend on Google Plus. She left a comment on yesterday’s post, Why Do Authors Do What They Do?, and I’m lifting that comment into this post:

“I think there is a biological answer to your core question, which is basically: Why do we write at all?? (The push to share or sell is a separate question, yes??) When I write, my MIND is very active seeing visions, seeking words, hearing sounds . . . and I actually experience an altered state of being, I sense my own mind and I sense completeness when the vision, words and sounds all slide together, meshing into a perfect form . . I actually feel a chemical happenstance in my brain and body . . . and I Like it! That is why I write. This is true whether I am writing an essay, a short story, a poem, a political treatise or a technical manual:) Whether anyone else reads it or experiences it . . that is an added pleasure. As a teacher, I do know that, if I experience that state of perfect meshing then use that piece with my students, they DO respond differently. They sense the balance I think – the state of communication in equipoise:) Information in equipoise can be more readily envisioned and accepted. Written and spoken language (I include singing and chanting here) is inherently a pathway to CONNECT with others. Those direct connections are almost as good as the first creation sensation . . . almost ;-) So, we reach out to share and sell . . .”

Gwenette likes the feeling of Equipoise, the sense of Completeness, and the opportunity to Connect.

What about our distant ancestors?

Was making a tally of trade goods the cause for feeling equipoise?

Did pictographics of the lives of gods bring a sense of completeness?

Were scribes eager to connect with others?

Obviously, not all acts of writing induce altered states; but, many could be tweaked to supply the writer’s high

Even if it was only in your diary, has writing ever helped you feel more or gain satisfaction or enliven your life?

What is it about recording words that carries such power?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)

Do Writers Always Know What They’re Writing About?


Over-used, old writing maxim: “Write what you know.”

Misunderstood, old human maxim: “Know thyself.”

Can writers always know what they’re writing about? What if they need to describe the death-thoughts of a character? Do they have to die to know?

Some writers will go to extraordinary lengths to get close to knowledge they have to convey in their stories–exotic research, dangerous journeys, ridiculous jobs.

Tracey Baptiste was able to approximate critical knowledge by merely permitting her children to be away for a summer visit. Her post, Writing from non-experience, is worth reading to know how resourceful writers can be when they need to know. Plus, when you know her novel, Angel’s Grace, was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by New York City Librarians, you’ll appreciate the value of following her blog :-)

Did you notice how many times I used the word “know” in that last paragraph? Now, why would a creative writer purposefully over-use a word?

Since words are the substance of my trade, I often check an etymology dictionary while I’m crafting a piece. When I checked “know”, I didn’t at first know what to think. Usually, a word, let’s say “write”, will have other words as root meanings, like write’s “cut, carve, scratch”.

Know has only know as its root meaning

Apparently, one is supposed to know what know means. Know what I mean?

Most writers have extremely volatile imaginations. Many have gotten away with writing about things they’ve never known, in the sense of having personally experienced, because they’ve known how to use a bit of research and a flock of intuitions to get oh, so close to seeming like they’ve been there.

Write what you know is just one of the many things writers professionally cheat at when they pursue their strange craft :-)

In case you wonder at my use of the word “cheat” in that last sentence, check its roots here
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)

Take Part In Our Reader Survey

Get A Free Copy of the book, Notes from An Alien

We’re All Writers & Some of Us Know We Are :-)


Our last post explored the meaning of the word “write” and attempted to establish a wider use of the activity—“…we all write our lives for others to read.”

One thing writers can tell you is that the craft/art of writing has much more to it than putting words on paper/screen.

First, the idea for the written piece needs to happen—sometimes coming out of the blue, sometimes the result of personal training in fetching ideas from the depths of the unconscious mind.

And, if we are all “writers”, we all receive or fetch ideas that we then want to express.

Here’s another quote from the last post: “…the word “write” came from roots that meant ‘carve, scratch, and cut‘.”

So, expressing an idea in “writing” can have many forms other than words in a book

Then, there are the organizing and editing tasks of the writer—putting ideas in order, changing the order, realizing that certain ideas beg for more ideas to fulfill them, sharing the composition of ideas with a few trusted others to see if the project is progressing properly, retreating back into the privacy of the mind to ponder the flow of the effort to Express—have you done some or all of these activities then expressed the result, in words or other creative action?

I feel the expression of creatively-ordered ideas, no matter the vehicle of expression, is “writing”.

If a writer can “paint” images in our minds with words, why can’t a painter “write” feelings in our heart?

Why can’t the mother “write” life lessons with her daily behavior that her child can “read”?

Why can’t the inspirational speaker “write” hidden messages in the minds of their audience that later “paint” vivid meanings they can apply in resolving life issues?

Why do the corporations “write” so many messages into their advertising calculated to “read” themselves to us over and over and over?

Why do addicts “write” plays with their drugs which compel them to “read” a script that kills them?

How do children so easily “write” love songs in our hearts?

We can “read” omens in the skies and threats in a glance. We can “write” prescriptions for failure with our actions. We can “author” a memorable experience for others.

We can even use those slippery entities called words to re-create our understanding of words themselves :-)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)

Take Part In Our Reader Survey

Get A Free Copy of Notes from An Alien