If Steve didn’t already hold the title, I’d take words as my lover.
I find both the curve of the “s” and the loops of the uppercase cursive “L” very seductive.
I love the way letters form words, and the same letters can make thirty words. I love how syllables tumble on top of each other or separate themselves by beats like a band marching. I love how there can be fifty words with the same meaning, but only one fits perfectly into your sentence, the way a jigsaw piece fits into the puzzle.
I like crossword puzzles. I even play those Find-a-Word puzzles that are usually only for kids on road trips. I have read entire pages of the dictionary before, and not because I was stuck in Scrabble with nothing but consonants. I listen to the phonated words on dictionary.com because I like the sound of them. In fact, I waste as much time on dictionary.com as most people spend on imdb or iTunes.
I’m a total word geek. And so is my friend, Patrick. Yet he’s not nearly as outspoken about it as I am. He is a closeted word geek. Patrick is the one who pointed out to me that “belligerent” meant something other than extremely drunk. On New Years Day, we went out to lunch. I was hungover from wine, which we all know is the worst hangover of all, but I was still coherent enough to talk about how people destroy words. Certain words become popular and overused and misused to such an extent that soon they are merely shadows of their original meaning.
He told me how he hates when people say “decadent” to refer to a dessert, knowing the word is derived from the word “decay” and should mean deterioration. Driving to Kansas City last weekend, my sister and her fiance got into a debate on whether she used “dilemma” correctly. That’s when I realized it’s not just me and Patrick, but there are other people who love words, too. There are other people who don’t like when people push and prod words into sentences where they don’t fit – like jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t belong. It’s against everything I believe in, and also the reason I don’t do puzzles with kids.
Here are some examples:
Should mean: exactly what you say is accurate, no metaphors or analogies.
Often misused: I’m literally dying of thirst (or anything else Rachel Zoe says)
Should mean: to read or examine very carefully
Often misused: as the exact opposite – to skim or glance over quickly without paying much attentionre
Should mean: has no specific pattern, purpose, or objective
Often misused: “This random man approached me and asked for the time.” The man isn’t random (especially since he had an objective to find out the time); he’s just a stranger.
Should mean: some incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs
Often misused: coincidence, Alanis Morissette’s whole song on the subject
Should mean: against everything society has to offer
Often misused: shy, introverted
Should mean: one of a kind
Often misused: different/weird. As in, “wow this talking cookie jar is such a unique gift!”
Should mean: information capable of direct verification, not of matters of judgment.
Often misused: “I am irresistible to women and that’s a fact.”
Should mean: elevated or lofty in thought, impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power.
Often misused: by rich ladies at tea talking about the new wall color.
Should mean: plural of “medium” and can refer to anything used to carry a message
Often misused: a black cloud of pinstripe suits behind television, magazines, and radio who influence your daughters to take diet pills and your sons to look at porn.
Should mean: apology. It implies you have something to apologize for.
Often misused: accidents, like bumping into someone’s cart at the grocery store. Don’t apologize for the fact that there are sixty people in the fucking juice aisle! Not you’re problem. Perhaps “excuse me” or “get your god damn apple juice and keep moving!” is what you meant.
Maintaining the integrity of words is next to impossible. Because words mean exactly what we use them to mean. Words develop as our meanings for them do. New meanings are added to existing words as new uses become popular. So if you look a word up now, it doesn’t have one meaning – it has seven to twelve. Which brings me to the realization that this whole post was in vain. Oh fuck it: I’ve always got curse words when I want to make an impact. I can’t depend on any word greater than four letters to evade misinterpretations these days.