Take a Word.... Word: Etymology, How We Use Words and a Short Story
Germanic; Dutch ‘woord’ and German ‘Wort’, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin ‘verbum’, all meaning ‘word’.
Definition of 'word' (wəːd)
Noun singular: word; noun plural: words
- a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed
- a term or a name for something
- a single distinct conceptual unit of language, comprising inflected and variant forms (oh! oh? oh (intonation falling in disappointment))
- the smallest amount of something spoken or written (e.g. ‘a’)
Short words, medium-sized words, long words, it all depends on the syllables or beats of a word.
The word ‘thorough’ has 2 syllables, ‘tho / rough’, and English being awkward the ‘tho’ says ‘thŭ’ (short ‘u’) and the ‘rough’ says ‘rŭ’, though in American English I believe the ‘rough’ says ‘rō’ (long o). Of course the word ‘rough’ on its own says ‘ruff’! No wonder some have difficulty with our pronunciation, let alone the spelling.
Useful and Meaningful
Words can please, shock, hurt, soothe, lull, surprise and much, much more.
They can get you a job, they can change someone’s mind, they can mean the difference between yes and no, between right and wrong.
They have ‘nuance’, meaning different things depending on the tone or intonation in which they are delivered; sometimes also depending on the spelling. Take ‘no’. Say it in different ways - with a voice that’s harsh, pensive, undecided, definite… and so on.
They have shape, outline, visual impact.
They can take shape in type-script, handwritten script where letters are separate, cursive script where letters flow one to another when we use our own unique handwriting (not one person’s is the same as another’s, ever).
They can appear in many fonts, they can be bold, italic, underlined, in lower or upper case.
Words appear in each language, sometimes even in picture form. Some are written from left to right, others right to left, some from top to bottom.
You’ll come across nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions…. ok, I know, that’s enough!
‘Inverted commas’, ‘speech marks’ or “quotes” can enclose some words. Anyone can assemble them in phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, stories….. you know the rest.
What’s going on in the world? Words in a newspaper will let you know, in headings, sub-headings and articles. Subtitles are provided if you can’t hear the sounds of a film or a television programme. A friend’s written words will give you up-to-date personal news in an email or a letter.
How do you find your way? Signs decorated in words give you directions, tell you what village you’re entering, what shops you have on your high street, what station you’re travelling from or the address for a letter to be delivered.
What can you find out?
The Bigger Picture
By now, you’ve got the picture. As soon as you start thinking about when and where words are used, the list is endless. Look around you! I bet you can see words wherever you are. How many will depend on your situation but there will be some; even the countryside offers a wooden post by a stile, pointing to ‘Church’, ‘High Street’ and ‘Public Path’. Isn’t that amazing?
Not only do we have all that but we can use words in so many ways, all created by ourselves; phrases which mean something other than the literal, phrases which can make people laugh, cry, ponder and much more. Amazing!
Let’s have a look at some of those phrases, sayings, idioms; you see, already we have a choice of three slightly different nouns! Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Wally wanted a word with his boss. He was fed up with his job, wanted more variety in his daily tasks. Word had it that the boss was looking for someone to take over the sub-editor’s position.
The upshot of it all was a straight ‘No!’ The boss said he was too young, Wally said he was up to it, the boss said that his word was law, Wally got hot under the collar and… well, they had words. By the time Wally returned to his desk, annoyed but strangely excited, he’d resigned. He cleared his desk, said goodbye to the few colleagues he respected, and walked out onto the street with a jaunty air.
Wally had taken his boss at his word when the latter had promised good prospects and promotion when they’d first met. He’d really thought his word was his bond. But no, it seemed not. He should never have believed a word he said. Trouble was, none of it was in writing so it would just be his word against the boss'. Guess who’d win?
‘So now what?’ thought Wally. He could write; he knew he could write well. He knew that when his words touched the page they danced and sang, they rang out loud and clear.
His words bounced back from that page, hung in the air and lingered in people’s minds, impressing many and even influencing a few.
‘Another newspaper? No. I think not.’ The words in Wally’s head tripped over themselves in an effort to surge forth; dare he try what he’d dreamed of? Dare he venture forth on his own, move abroad to the sunny climes of the Côte d’Azur, finish those long-stifled memoirs.
The memoirs had remained fettered in that stuffy drawer for years. They always niggled at the back of his brain. He often imagined his somewhat wordy tome as a hostage, just waiting for the right moment to be freed, enduring torment, a lack of air and bursting to speak outright, tell its tale. It would need some editing, some careful wording, if he was to be taken seriously. Usually the words just tripped off his tongue and decorated the page.
Off to the publisher
Now was the time. His girlfriend had just given him the heave-ho so no ties. He’d received not a word from the publishers he’d approached all those years ago, so time to try some more. He could do this; he was ready. Just pen a carefully worded email, make sure he sold his story well. He had to polish his lines, learn his words in order to give the right impression.
Wally could do that. Wasn’t he a wordsmith after all? So, after hours of work, typing word for word from his draft which had last seen the light of day when Wally was 10, he had his manuscript. Of course, there was much more to include now!
Well, the South of France provided him with a suitably typical house in the hills. Those French girls were oh so beautiful that he was somewhat distracted from his writing. However, he finally sent off the memoirs, his words of wisdom to echo his life. He went back to the Mademoiselles and thought no more about it. Marketing? What marketing?
The Life of Riley
Success or Failure?
Then, one hot day as he sat on his verandah, an email came through,
‘Give me the word when you’re ready to publish and we’ll go for it!’
A publisher had responded! At long last he had that break; he could start living. A phone call followed shortly after. A few points needed clarification.
‘A word to the wise, Wally. Make sure we get that next book from you within the month, won’t you? How you’ve adapted to the French way of life, something along those lines.’
‘Oh, my word!’ thought Wally. ‘How am I going to meet that deadline?’ he said out loud.
‘Well,’ replied the publisher, ‘Here’s an incentive for you. A quick word in the ear of that TV producer and we could have a series based on your memoirs.’
Wally’s heart wasn’t in it. He rushed, tripped over his words, his standard slipped. Within three weeks the result was sent and ‘An Englishman’s Conquests in the South of France’ zipped into the publisher’s Inbox.
Sadly, after publication it didn’t take long before the word was out that Wally had not lived up to his previous standard. The reviews were not kind. Wally was thick-skinned (or just thick?),
‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.’
Not strictly true as it was his way with words which had been his downfall. Ah well, back to the writing board. A little more application on ‘Word’ should produce a better press. The next book would be entitled, ‘Wally’s Words on Life, the Universe and Everything’; bound to be a best seller.
‘wally’ can be used in a derogatory way (in Britain at least): ‘What a wally!’ = ‘What an idiot!’
Words and Writers
One of the most famous quotes from the Bible is John1:1, from the English Standard Version, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Quite a powerful message.
Words are our life, maybe our profession, certainly our passion. We can use them or lose them. We can delve into the great play-pen of coloured words and have the time of our lives or we can just plod on with the words within our comfort zone.
Writing is an art, as are painting, drawing, sculpture, acting and many more. As with any facet of art, you want to do your best, you want others to enjoy your end product.
So which of these are you? A player on the stage of words or a tag-along stage-door groupy? A blacksmith who lovingly swirls the metal or a bodger who says ‘that’ll do’.
Explore all the words you come across! Take those words! Mould them into an interesting shape, glaze them with a glossy finish and proudly display your art with a touch of panache!
Play with the Colours of Words
What do you read?
Which type of reading appeals to you most?
© 2015 Ann Carr