If a picture speaks a thousand words then why am I still writing?



I love words. I love the way they express a concept and I love the way they flow. I love the variety words offer you and how different words convey different shades of meaning. I love the way words can be subtle but also the way they can be so direct that they hone right in on the situation.

Given that I love words, it’s perhaps not surprising that I have made my living primarily out of my writing skills for the last three decades – working first as a print journalist, then a press secretary, then a public relations practitioner, and more recently as a teacher of effective writing skills. Even one of my hobbies involves writing – fiction writing to be exact.

But are words all they are cracked up to be? Somewhere along the line, have I been sold a lemon and kept right on pretending it was sweet?

The old saying ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ offers a lot of insight in terms of our modern world. Letters have been replaced with Facetime, written words are becoming fewer, and newspapers are going out of business while the volume of YouTube videos has gone into hyper-drive. The popularity of reading has taken a nosedive while instant visual communication is on the ascendency.

Even in my writing courses, I often refer to the importance of visuals. It is acknowledged that one of the main learning styles of almost half the population is visual learning, whereas written communication falls far behind. An example I love to use is the difficulties an IT specialist has in explaining to me how to make changes to something on my computer screen. However, if they send me a screen shot they have almost instant success.

Seemingly in answer to such concerns about pictures being more important than words, I recently developed a new hobby that one day may even become a business. Taking photos!

I have loved taking photos since I was a child but never considered doing it professionally until I hit upon the idea of selling photos through stock photography sites. Although I had doubts about my technical skills, this new venture gave me the motivation to develop them further.

When I investigated the world of stock photography via the Internet, I found that ‘concept’ photos were particularly in demand and that seemed right up my alley. The creative juices flowed as I thought about expressing sayings and concepts through photos.

A few months and quite a lot of hard work later, I have had a variety of photos accepted as stock photos and am loving it. Some of the resulting photos which have been accepted by iStockphoto/Getty Images have included:

·        Don’t put all your eggs in one basket http://api.istockphoto.com/photo/all-your-eggs-in-one-basket-gm603986566-103707693

·        Ladder of success http://api.istockphoto.com/photo/ladder-of-success-gm611085624-105078539

·        Feeding the family http://api.istockphoto.com/photo/wild-swamphen-feeds-her-chcks-gm608638226-104373433

·        Slippery slope http://api.istockphoto.com/photo/children-s-slide-slippery-slope-gm602293072-103505805

Now I can truly say that I love pictures. I love the way a moment in time captured in a single photograph can express so much. I love the way a picture not only conjures up words and thoughts, but also emotions and atmosphere. I love the way pictures are intensively creative and believably normal all at once.

So have pictures now taken over from words in my life? Not at all!

Show me your words through your pictures and I will still show you my pictures through my words. For while pictures can show so much, they are still at the mercy of the viewer’s interpretation and what they already know. Words, on the other hand, can convey new ideas, new thoughts, new impressions that the reader may never have encountered before. They can also lead people to understand specific details, facts and points of view that may otherwise have been beyond their frame of reference. As well, they can conjure up pictures in your mind that aren’t limited by the constraints of everyday reality.

Does that mean my love affair with pictures has been just a passing fad? Wrong on that score too! I now just love them both. Words and pictures, pictures and words – they were always just meant to go together. Apart they are both powerful but together they are creative dynamite!


Unexpected words – make that a paraprosdokian

unexpected wordsI am someone who loves to finish other people’s sentences off for them. I get the wavelength they are on and jump in to kindly help complete their words (just in case they were going to forget!). I don’t do this all the time – that would be annoying. But if I’m getting into a conversation, I sometimes just can’t help myself and the words coming rushing out. That’s all well and good except that sometimes I get it wrong. Then we encounter that awkward moment when they correct me and proceed with what they were actually going to say – something I hadn’t expected at all.

I probably don’t love those moments but at least they add variety. So much of what people say is predictable once you know them that it can be interesting when they say something different. And unexpected words can sometimes add so much spice to life. Such as when someone gives you unexpected praise or reveals an unexpected insight into what makes you tick. On the other hand, unexpected criticism or complaints are not so welcome and we often wish those words had gone unsaid.

Unexpected words can also be fun! There is actually a special term for a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is unexpected or surprising. It is called a ‘paraprosdokian’ – now isn’t that an unexpectedly odd word!

A friend introduced me to these gems just recently, and it was an unexpected pleasure. Listed below are a few of my favourites, courtesy of Paraprosdokians  and Louise Myers Visual Social Media

  • Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  • The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.
  • I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
  • You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
  • Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
  • War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
  • I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
  • You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
  • I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.
  • When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
  • To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Do you like a play on words, or on a stage? If it’s the former, then paraprosdokians could be just your thing. Please let me know if you have a favourite.

The ‘W’ words

News Flash: I love ‘W’ words! There’s something about words beginning with W Words2‘W’ that seem to give them a special place in our language.

Often they are quite functional words. For example, when I am teaching people how to write journalistic articles, I urge them to cover most of the five ‘W’s and the lonely ‘H’ in their lead sentence. This refers to ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ and ‘How’.

But the letter ‘W’ also heads up whole categories of interesting words. These include:

  • weird words like wiggle and wobbegong
  • wise words like well-advised, wait and wit
  • wasted words like wallow and wrangle
  • wishful words like whiff, whimsical and wonder
  • wobbly words like wacky, waddle and wishy-washy
  • whispered words like whimper and wistful

Perhaps the special appeal of ‘W’ words has something to do with the letter itself. It can be written with a special flourish and is the only letter in the English alphabet with more than one syllable.

Its pronunciation tells us it is double the worth of a ‘U’ and Internet users often dub it as ‘dub’. What more is there to say? Letter number 23 is worthy of wonder!

Do you have a favourite ‘W’ word? Comment and let me know.

Playing favourites

Do you have any favourite words? Two of my long-time favourites are ‘lackadaisical’ and ‘recalcitrant’ – two multisyllable words oozing with imagery and attitude.favourite words

I originally came across the word ‘lackadaisical’ in my first year of university. I was living in a residential college and enjoying the sudden freedom of being an adult, even though it meant juggling study and part-time work along with the socialising.

Most of my ‘group’ were from the country (like me) and everyone had their specific traits. One of our number seemed sure he was perfect, despite his predilection for wearing Ugg Boots and shorts in the middle of winter! However, we soon put him straight. At some stage we worked out the source of his problem – he was lackadaisical!

According to the Oxford Dictionaries online, lackadaisical means ‘lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy’. Maybe it was my friend’s lack of enthusiasm for dressing properly that got him the name! Whatever the case, though, I just loved the sound of this word. The fact that it was a bit odd and rarely used just added to the attraction.

I discovered my other favourite word courtesy of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. Way back in December 1993, Paul Keating provocatively labelled Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as ‘recalcitrant’, sparking a diplomatic incident. The outraged response was perhaps not surprising given that ‘recalcitrant’ means “obstinately defiant of authority or restraint” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

It was the first time I can recall hearing the word and I enjoyed the sound of it as well as the reaction it caused. It’s not often in Australia that the use of a single unusual word gets such attention!

Now I need to assure you that not all my favourite words can be used as insults! Take, for example, the words ‘serendipity’ and ‘discombobulated’. According to Merriam-Webster, these two words are actually among the top 10 favourite words people have (placing number six and eight, respectively). The top place apparently goes to ‘defenestration’ – who would have thought? I don’t know what it means but the sound of it doesn’t do anything for me.

But what’s in a word? A lot of letters, a lot of sounds, a lot of meaning, and sometimes the odd piece of attitude.

Which words do you like? And what is their attraction? I’d love you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment on this post.

When there are no words

The world is full of words but sometimes they just aren’t enough.????????????????????????????????????

Some feelings are so powerful they are beyond explanation. Such as when you find yourself overcome with the wonderful emotions of delight or gratitude or the harsh emotions of anger or remorse. Either you say ‘no words’ or you are actually speechless.

Thankfully, I have never known the kind of betrayal that has left me in this position but I know others who have. The shock and inability to comprehend is what has left them without words.

How can your life partner and the person you have shared a family with just walk out or replace you with a younger model? I know too many people this has happened to.

I may say a lot of words to comfort them but very few are of real use. But I grieve with them.

How hard it must be to see someone you thought you would grow old with turn into the kind of callous stranger who can walk out the door. There are no words.

For me, my ‘no words’ have normally been for happier reasons – and perhaps despite my idiosyncrasies.

I am somebody who prefers to give rather than to take, and I find it hard to ask people to do things for me.

That might sound noble but it isn’t really. Over the years I’ve come to realise that it is actually a result of my pride and independence. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone except my closest family, and even that is hard.

If someone does something for me, I try to even the stakes or do something better for them. It’s not the purest motivation!

I no longer think that is a particularly healthy way to behave and have been trying to teach myself to just be thankful when someone does something for me.

I still cringe when I remember how badly I once failed at this. We had been going through a difficult financial time and my elderly grandmother – a wonderful country lady with a great voice for ‘calling in the cows’ – had sent me $50 to help. At the time I worried that this was too costly for her, whereas $50 would get eaten up so quickly in my life. And so I thanked her but sent the money back. Later I learnt how hurt she had been, and I have always regretted what I did.

To accept help or love offered with thankfulness is itself a form of grace and love.

But I am learning the beauty of receiving. On some rare and special occasions in my life, someone has done something for me or helped me in some way that has completely overwhelmed me. It means so much that I know that I could never repay them and so for once I don’t even think to try.

I am speechless with gratitude and I have ‘no words’ except ‘thank you’.

These are times that I treasure. Although I hear so many things that make me despair of human nature, this kind of selfless love gives a better word to focus on – ‘hope’.

Learning words and the one that got away

Have you ever searched your mind for the perfect word and come up blank? The word is there, almost on the tip of your tongue, but it is evading you. And you really can’t wait forever, suspending conversation while you search for that elusive word. You just have to substitute another, lesser, word even if it doesn’t express your thought properly. And the missing word? It becomes the one that got away!


My mind is filled with many words but as I get older I find that more of them are getting away from me – only to return when they are no longer wanted! It can be frustrating but at least there are replacements around. It makes me think about what a privilege it is for us to know so many words, with so many shades of meaning. I also wonder at the mysterious process by which we learn them in the first place.

When your children are small, one of the great joys of a parent is to watch and hear them discover new things – new attractions, new mobility and new words! ‘Dad’, ‘Mum’, ‘Up’, ‘Bye’, ‘Ta’ are among those that tend to make the early list (at least in my home). Experts say that the first proper words tend to arrive at nine to 11 months but it can vary greatly. A lot of those early words get a bit muddled up and some sounds can be hard to make. When my daughter was a toddler, I remember delighting in asking her to say ‘yellow’ as it always came out as ‘lellow’ and sounded incredibly cute.

Children develop their language at an incredible rate as they try to make sense of the world and communicate their feelings or demands. And if they get angry or upset with a sibling or playmate, a common refrain of adults is to ‘Use Your Words!’ This can be hard to do when a certain person is playing with your favourite toy or has pushed you down in the sandpit. But somehow we learn to do it (or at least most of us do!).

But the learning process doesn’t stop there. It’s on to school and learning how to read and write, or how to tell the most engaging story in ‘Show and Tell’. I seemed to learn a lot of my words through books. I have always loved to read and the great thing about that is it really increases your knowledge of words.

But there is a downside. I still remember when the class was taking it in turns to read aloud in primary school and it was finally my turn to read. In the text I had to read was the word ‘picturesque’ – a word I knew and understood from seeing it in books. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean I knew how to pronounce it. Out of my mouth came the word ‘pictureskew’ to gales of laughter from the class.

It was laughter I was to hear again over the years, as I went on to speak out the words ‘quay’ and ‘awry’ without ever actually hearing them pronounced. Some old friends of mine still occasionally call me ‘Orie’ despite there being nothing awry in the way I say the word these days!

Do you have any stories about early words, mispronunciations or words that got away? Drop me a line in the comment (reply) section for this post as I’d love to hear them!

Say What?

sauce bottle

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hit the headlines in June 2009 when he uttered the colloquial saying: ‘Fair shake of the sauce bottle mate’. At the time, there was a lot of conjecture about what it meant and whether this was an ‘authentic’ saying of Mr Rudd’s or more a cynical ploy to ‘connect’ with people. To explain slang with slang, Mr Rudd’s appeal for ‘a fair go’ was itself a mixture of two phrases – ‘fair shake of the dice’ and ‘fair suck of the sauce bottle’- and so it was ‘not the full quid’. His country Queensland origins might have explained the usage if he hadn’t suddenly uttered the saying three times in one interview, making it seem a little manufactured. ‘Stone the crows’, it’s just so hard to know if something is ‘fair dinkum’ these days!

I, personally, would like to turn my nose up at all these outdated colloquialisms. But my guilty secret is that I have some of my own favourites that I keep returning to despite the novelty for others wearing off long ago (if it ever existed!).

For example, when I am about to leave somewhere I sometimes say ‘I’m off’, pause for a few moments to judge the tolerance of the audience, and follow up with ‘off like a bucket of prawns in the midday sun’. For some reason this never seems to evoke the level of amusement in others that I feel it warrants. But I still enjoy it. Perhaps it’s something to do with my country NSW origins?

Just recently, I took things down a notch by using the saying ‘I’m cooking with gas’ several times – to the clear annoyance of my family. This seems slightly unfair given that we do have a gas stove – and so what else would I be cooking with?

Just as some people keep returning to favourite ‘Dad jokes’ or cringingly awful puns so, too, do I love my special sayings despite, or maybe because of, their dorkiness. It appears I am not alone. According to Mark McCrindle, writing about ‘Australianisms and Clichés’ in the book Word Up,  78 per cent of Australians admit to using Aussie phrases, with some popular ones including the metaphor ‘spit the dummy’ (58 per cent) and the comparison ‘going like hot cakes’ (53 per cent).

However, he says that attitudes are changing to some of the classic old Aussie sayings, with the ‘reinvented’ Aussie lexicon reflecting our increased sophistication and the influence of such things as American entertainment. It saddens me to think that some of my favourite sayings such as ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ (which means being very busy and so lizards must drink fast!) may one day fade out of existence. Replacements such as ‘whatever’, ‘talk to the hand’ and ‘LOL’ just don’t cut it for me, but I have hope that the Aussie larrikin language will survive in some form.

Now I hope you realise that it is ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’ to me as to whether you share my love of colloquial sayings (or at least some of them). I realise ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ but, then again, I’ve managed to have my say and that’s ‘better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick!’