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!

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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!