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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7 Replies to “A Million Words – What a Toolbox For the Writer!”

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