A Million Words — What a Toolbox For the Writer!

In anoth­er article I talked about words and how they sound as being a crucial part of build­ing great poems, it is phenom­en­al that we have access to so many tools to build anything we write. Global Language Monitor reports the exist­ence of more than a million words in the English language, we may add words but there are likely to be plenty of words that already exist to describe any concept which you need to discuss.

Words, the Ingredients for Writing?

I love the concept that words are the raw ingredi­ents that any writer has avail­able, much in the same way as a chef selects ingredi­ents for their recipes from the produce they have purchased that day, ingredi­ents are mixed in a special way produ­cing a partic­u­lar culin­ary affect which ends up both visually pleas­ing and taking the pallet on a journey. I said raw ingredi­ents because it is the mixing process that makes them more special, we can use words to paint pictures for telling stories, through them it is possible to invent new universes, describe places that exist, tell myths from the distant past or create new and inter­est­ing visions of any future we find appro­pri­ate and the quirks of language usage will differ accord­ing to where we hail from.

Ingredients bvy Nile CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

Do you remem­ber the journey into the future in H.G. Wells’s Time Machine and how that future world was described and the people that lived in that world? Each reader will have a slightly differ­ent percep­tion of the story, but you will recall it vividly, showing the power words can provide.

One old writer sugges­ted true writers only use typewriters the reason­ing “we must toil over every word then we will choose our words correctly, making sure we select the right one before putting it down on the page” what he meant by this is when being creat­ive it is selec­tion of the specif­ic word that takes most of the effort and utilising the right one, or indeed the right combin­a­tion is what provides the most dramat­ic affect.

The real essence of this concept is reflec­ted by a writer who told me, “I enjoy doing my first drafts by hand,” their point being that in working with pen on paper is how they get their creat­ive­ness flowing, it gets the story moving, they also recog­nise that there is a great differ­ence between the creat­ive element of writing and prepar­ing the piece for public­a­tion. Both are an essen­tial part of the writer’s craft, but there are many on-line writers who fail to under­stand the distinc­tion — dashing to publish the first words gener­ated from their mind, with little thought to how an idea is conveyed, one of the reasons why in some instances there can be more than a dozen altern­at­ive words with very simil­ar meanings, select­ing the perfect one is a skill that must be acquired.

How well any person writes is  about how they under­stand word usage and the ways in which they display their word-craft by the act of combin­ing these into phrases, sentences and paragraphs to convey the inten­ded meaning.

Just Another Word?

A four year old boy inven­ted his first word while travel­ing home from nursery school, one day he was feeling the textures of the walls and fences and told his mother how the wall near a shop on the route was “Crickle.” The meaning of this partic­u­lar word being a smooth surface having bumps on it, like a concrete wall having stones protrud­ing from the surface, so smooth and bumpy or crinkled at the same time, certainly a good choice for a new word. This one has been with me all my life.

Truth is new words are inven­ted every day and will be till the end of time. It is possible for any person to begin to under­stand a new language and commu­nic­ate with other people in that language knowing as few as 500 words, yet there is a differ­ence between the tourist knowing 500 words and using that knowledge to navig­ate to their holiday destin­a­tions and the writer who lever­ages their knowledge of the language to paint pictures in the imagin­a­tion of the reader. Remember even if your writing is purely factu­al you still need to tell a story to be well under­stood.

Isn’t There already a Word for that?

Technical by Stevebidmead CC) Public Domain from PixabayWith new words coming along all the time it is appro­pri­ate to question how we have gotten by without that word for thousands of years and it is appro­pri­ate to ask wheth­er there is already a word for that concept. Apparently “web 2.0” was the millionth word added to the diction­ary, this is a technic­al word with special interest in the Software or Internet indus­tries. Hailing from those indus­tries I have used the term “web 2.0” and know its meaning, person­ally I don’t consider it a word in its own right, especially when the inevit­able “web 2.1” or “web 3.0” comes rolling on by, this is a technic­al term, nothing more, nothing less and technic­al terms don’t normally quali­fy as true words in my think­ing.

Hashtag” is anoth­er inter­est­ing addition and arguably has no prior altern­at­ive word, again it is really a technic­al term, yet its import­ance is under­stood by anyone who uses Twitter of Facebook and really is being impor­ted into many languages, English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, etc. every­one is start­ing to under­stand the import­ance of hasht­ags.

With new words, such as “selfie” it can be argued that their are already words that work perfectly satis­fact­or­ily that a new word was not needed, after all Van Gogh painted a famous self-portrait in the 19th century. Here is a case of a young­er gener­a­tion creat­ing a new “hip” word that rapidly enters common use, is it a real word of a collo­qui­al­ism associ­ated with the 2010s, time will surely tell. There are many valid reasons to add words to the diction­ary, it used to be the case that for a word to be added it had to be in regular use for nearly 20 years, but today it seems to be added after being used twice by two differ­ent people.

Word Aids

When I am typing on my tablet device it has type ahead turned on, this means that sometimes it flashes up the word I am think­ing about before I type a single charac­ter, but there are also occasions when all the help in the world will not find the right word to use to describe what you have in mind. If that is tough for native English speak­er it is doubly so for an immig­rant learn­ing English once they have moved to a new land.

If you don’t know what word to use chances are you need to educate yourself a little more and expand your word usage, diction­ar­ies are helpful as is Google but most helpful of all is the willing­ness to improve.




Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for contrib­ut­ing his thoughts on the power words can bring. All images used here are either owned by Peter Giblett or are CC0 Public Domain.



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