“Words are things,” Dr Maya Angelou said once. She believed in the power of words as more than mere communication.
Whether you’re a reader or a writer or neither of those, language is an everyday tool that no one can do without. Those who have speech disabilities also need and use a language. We know from anthropologists that several primate and bird species also have their own languages for communication.
But we do take language entirely for granted, don’t we? Our daily conversations with loved ones, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers involve all kinds permutations of words and tones so that neuro-linguists and psycho-linguists can tell a lot about a speaker just from a little bit of his/her talk. Looking across social media, we see how language is used and abused in ways like never before — making some ideas go viral or shutting them down entirely. Reams and reams of books and articles are published each year, presented in language that evokes emotions and thoughts — good or bad — within us.
This month, let’s take a look at the words, phrases, cliches, metaphors, etc., that interest us, drive us, and make us think and feel.
You can write to each daily prompt in your private journal, on your blog, or even in the comments below.
1/ A word you love and why.
2/ A word you hate and why.
3/ A question you love to ask people and why.
4/ A question you love for people to ask you and why.
5/ A question you hate to have to ask people and why.
6/ A question you hate to have people ask you and why.
7/ A cliche that you use often in your conversations/writing.
8/ A cliche you try to avoid in your conversations/writing.
9/ A cliche you think is completely wrong and why.
10/ A cliche you think is spot-on right and why.
11/ A word or phrase people don’t use much anymore but should and why.
12/ A word or phrase people use too much and should not and why.
13/ A word or phrase or cliche that you have used incorrectly and how you found out that you were wrong.
14/ A language you would love to be able to speak/read/write with.
15/ A new word or phrase you learned recently and how.
16/ A proverb you like and why.
17/ A proverb you hate and why.
18/ Think of your day ahead today and pick a metaphor or simile to describe it. Elaborate on it.
19/ Think of a time/event in your life that you cannot bring yourself to put into words. Write about why you shy away from this time/event.
20/ With the last book or article you read, what words or phrases stuck out the most and why?
21/ If you had to pick one word or phrase to describe your yesterday, what would that be and why?
22/ If you had to pick one word or phrase to describe your ideal day, what would that be and why?
23/ Create a word picture of an item in the room you are currently sitting in.
24/ Pick a word at random from a dictionary and use in as many different sentences as you can.
25/ Find a word from another language that does not exist in English and try to create its English equivalents. Brainstorm various options.
26/ Take two (or more) unrelated words and create a portmanteau that you like and would use.
27/ Homophones are words that sound the same but have two or more distinct meanings. e.g. flower and flour. What’s your favorite homophone? Least favorite?
28/ What’s your favorite acronym and why?
29/ What’s an acronym you hate and why?
30/ What’s your favorite slang word and why? Least favorite?
As a reader and a writer, I try to pay close attention to word/phrase choices. Yet, I know that what I say/write can mean one thing to me and several other things to the rest of the world. In the end, we can only hope to ensure we are conscious and careful with the words we put out there.
Dr Maya Angelou, like many writers, knew about the power of words. At a young age, she stopped speaking entirely after being sexually abused because she thought it was her speech that had made things worse. You can read more about this in her beautiful memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I reread this in 2014 and you can get some of my thoughts about the book (it’s not a review) here.
of course, Angelou has shown us, through her own writing, how enduring and beautiful words can be.
Here’s a bit of the text of the quote from the video clip above:
Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.