Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 11, 2013

Words spur love-hate relationship


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Sometimes I play words with friends. And I’m not using capital letters there because I’m not talking about the iPhone app Words with Friends that is apparently so addictive you can get kicked off a plane because you refuse to stop playing and turn off your phone (right, Alec Baldwin?).

I’m just talking about talking about words, learning about words and a general fascination with words.

The usual Zen mood of the yoga class my friend and I attend every Tuesday was briefly tainted one morning when she quietly growled to me, “I always say if you are going to teach a yoga class you should know not to say ‘Lay down on your mat.’”

I blinked, trying to think hard what I usually say about taking a prone position. I was suspicious I said the wrong thing. “You should know to say ‘lie down.’ It drives me crazy to hear people say ‘lay down,’” she continued. Then we both smirked and giggled quietly at the irony of being annoyed during yoga.

Maybe we should blame Eric Clapton for his song “Lay Down, Sally” or Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” two examples of incorrect usage of the phrase offered by Mignon Fogarty, an online grammar columnist. Singing those tunes in my head will make it easier for me to remember which word is correct.

I had tacked up in my office for a long time a very polite and instructive note I received from a local doctor, reminding me about a grammatical rule that I frequently broke. Unfortunately, I misplaced it when I moved and can’t even remember now what rule he mentioned. (Dear Dr. Editor, please go ahead and email me again because I’m quite certain I still make that error ... and many others.)

I love words and grammar. Someday I hope to invest some time in relearning all the rules of language I learned in school and have long since forgotten. Column writing, by the way, can be a slightly more creative endeavor than, say, writing a news article. I mention that because I break old traditional rules all the time, such as starting a sentence with a conjunction. And I do it on purpose. For effect. Just as I do with sentence fragments.

I love words. I always have. I did pretty well with spelling early in school which is likely when I developed a comfort and interest in words and writing. That’s also about the time I discovered my discomfort and disinterest in numbers — which remains to this day.

I always find it amusing when it’s announced what words have recently been added to the dictionary. Because dictionaries are available online, words are added more frequently and with less concern about edging out older and lesser used words to balance the new additions. So, we are seeing some strange additions.

For example, this year “twerking” was added, a word given greater mileage by Miley Cyrus after her Video Music Awards performance. Surprisingly, the word twerk is 20 years old. Ironically, that’s the same age at Miss Cyrus. According to the online Oxford Dictionaries, twerk came out of the “bounce” music scene in New Orleans. The first known usage of the term is generally given to the 1993 song “Jubilee All” by D.J. Jubilee. The song repeats the refrain “Shake baby, shake baby, shake, shake, shake ... Twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk.” Personally I think, despite their grammatical errors, Clapton and Dylan are much more poetic songwriters. It’s suggested the word was used at night clubs prior to D.J. Jubilee’s song and seems to be derivative of “work it.”

My favorite word added to the Collins Dictionary this year was “squadoosh,” an Italian-American slang word that means “zilch.” I have a good friend who is Italian-American and I think I’ve heard him use it. It’s better than a lot of words folks learn if they watched “Jersey Shore.”

There are words I don’t like to hear or use, though. Crazy, hate and stupid top the list. I still forget and use them sometimes. But if I’m being more mindful of my words, those three get stuck on my tongue and don’t make it all the way out of my mouth. I wouldn’t want to call anyone “crazy” because I understand the seriousness of mental illness. I may call someone “crazy fun,” because that is a compliment in my dictionary. I hesitate to say “hate” about anything, even a book or movie I dislike. I don’t want the word creeping into my vocabulary. I guess I hate the word hate. Stupid is just completely offensive. I suppose people call people stupid frequently. In fact, I may joke about it to describe my own forgetfulness. But it is an insult that sticks in someone’s head. A child will never forget being called stupid by any relative, teacher or coach. So let me just put it all out there this one time and maybe get these words out of my system: Stupid is a hateful word and it’s crazy to use it.

Words are so powerful. They carry such weight, meaning, and evoke such strong emotions. They build up and they tear down. Words can construct or destruct self-esteem and self-confidence in seconds.

Some words are fun and silly, such as the newly added “selfie,” a photo one takes of oneself with a cell phone, or a “fauxhawk,” a hair style that resembles a Mohawk but doesn’t require shaving the head as the old punk style did. But other words are serious and impactful and we need to think twice about what words we use.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.