Thinking on Words

A friend recently said she planned on “wafing” at work the next day. At first, her word left me floundering to understand her meaning. But when I thought more about my friend and her approach to work, I somehow knew what she meant. The relationship created the meaning necessary to understand her words.

My friend also said that putting the word in quotes made it okay to use even though it is not a word. If that’s the case, then a lot of words need quotation marks.

Our conversation got me thinking about how people in general use words, both intentionally and unintentionally, how we create the meaning of the words we use, both real and made up, as well as the impact of relationship on the meaning of our words.

So, strap in, hold on, and journey into my thought process on the topic of words.

Words

Did you realize“unforgiveness” isn’t really a word? Not in my dictionary, anyway. “Impactful” isn’t either. Kind of disappointed since I use those words often.

Technically, adding “un” before “forgiveness” means taking back or undoing forgiveness. A very “churchy” (yes, another non-word) word, the assumed meaning of “unforgiveness” involves not forgiving or refusing to forgive, not so much an undoing of forgiveness given because of it not actually being given in the first place.

Impactful,”used to portray major impact or effect, is actually in some “online” dictionaries, but it’s not an official word according to Dictionary.com. And anyway, why not just use influential or effective? Unfortunately, I’ve used “impactful” so much over the years that I naturally think of it when describing something with great impact.

How many other words do I use frequently that don’t actually exist?

Words4

People constantly make up words. Some eventually become official words. (I’m still not over “ain’t” officially becoming a word.) Don’t we have enough words? Are we just too lazy to learn the ones we already have, so we make up new ones instead? Isn’t that kind of like being unable to find that thing you know you have somewhere, so you buy a new one instead of taking the time and making the effort to look for it?

Marketers, Tweeters (technically a real word) and “Facebookers” make up words all the time. Where do you think the Word of the Year “selfie” came from? (In case you’re wondering, second place went to “twerking.” Sorry, Miley!)

Ginormous” and “bestie” were also spawned “online” with “selfie.” The word “ginormous” combines gigantic and enormous, related synonymously, so why not just use one of the legitimate words? Can something truly be so gigantic and enormous that it needs both words to be described? Once something reaches enormous, does it need to be more? Or, is this simply our human tendency to add dramatic flare to everything?

Maybe my obsessive need to eliminate the little squiggly line under words creates an over-sensitivity to word choice. Or maybe my frustration over increasing laziness with the words we speak, over taking the time to communicate clearly and accurately, creates a need to consider the details of the words I use and the intentions behind them.

Words5

Take a minute to think about the words you use. Actually, think about how much you actually think about your words. Or, do you just let the words come forth without giving them much thought?

Scripture says a lot about using care with our words, and taking the time to consider these instructions strengthens character and relationships by bringing greater awareness to the fact that the words we speak – as well as how, when & why we speak them – reflect the atmosphere of the inner self with striking accuracy.

In January, we will look at how what we say, the way we say it and when we say it holds tremendous impact. In addition, we’ll look at how who says something matters along with the impact of the amount of words we speak (how much we say or don’t say). Finally, we’ll also look at the value of controlling our words along with ideas on how to incorporate this aspect of self control into the details of our lives.

DISCUSS: Take me on a journey into your thoughts on the use of words. Tell me what you think a detailed focus on this topic should include.

26 thoughts on “Thinking on Words

      • love that response! I especially like how you worked your word for the year into it…as in detailed focus.
        I can understand as a former teacher and a writer that words would be of special interest to you.
        Indeed the Bible does have a lot to say about the tongue and it is important to think about what we say, how we say it, and what the impact of our words will be.
        I am sure you will bless our lives and make us think before we speak! .

        • Thanks, Mary. You are right in that my background does bend my inclination toward using words properly. I think I might be bothered less by carelessness in this area if God did not emphasize their importance so much. I am amazed at just what Proverbs has to say on the topic. Anyway, God knew what He was doing when He prepared my life for every focused detail.

  1. Kari,
    I actually love words and I like to learn new words to use and often I will struggle to try to find a better word to use when I am writing something. I will confess as well that sometimes my spelling is so bad I can not spell the word I want to use and will instead use one that I can spell. Spell check does not help if you do not get close. 🙂 I think it is important to understand the meaning of words and how they should be used. I wish I did more to expand my vocabulary. You also have to be careful using slang as those words have multiple meanings and change over time.

    • My youngest son does the same thing as you regarding using the word he knows how to spell rather than the one he originally thought of because he can't spell it. Sometimes, I am mean & force him to try and spell the one he doesn't know. I like to challenge myself to fix a word before using spell check to correct it. Reading does a lot to help improve vocabulary & learn to spell better. At least, that's helped my son a lot, and it helps keep my sharper in my ability to use words. Slang words do really mess with the rules, which is why I don't think we can rely on them to express ourselves. As with so many areas of life (writing for example), we have to learn the rules before we can break them in a way that is impactful 🙂

  2. I am with you 100%… we are lazy. It is easier to make up a word or use slang than to communicating clearly and succinctly using the right words in their proper usage. If someone needs to explain what they mean by a phrase or specific word, whose fault is it? The whole idea of a "selfie" only personifies the problem of our culture today.

    One of the biggest beefs I have in recent years is the misuse of the term "way" – "way better", "way larger", etc. Way is not meant to be a superlative to define the scope or size of something. If it is better than other choices, then say so. If it is larger than how is it larger!

    I agree with you Kari. Of course, it would be interesting to look back at 50 or 75 years and see how many words that were common then are not used any longer. The depth of our vocabulary has definitely decreased as our education efforts have somehow increased, according to what we are led to believe. Why is that?

    • Your example of "way better" reminded me of an example that I tease my husband about, and that is using the word "wise" at the end of everything. "Size wise." "Running wise." Really, put any word in front of it, apparently. What we really mean to say is, "With regard to size" and "With regard to running." Unfortunately, this trend with how we use words leads to an increase in lazy thinking, which really only reflects further on our instant-gratification culture. I'm guilty at times too, but I am determined to clean up how I talk. Sure, it sets an example. Sure, it sets me apart. But more importantly, it provides a way for me to refuse to be lazy in my thinking. It's a defeat of the flesh for me, and I feel like it will transfer into all other areas of life. Now, to your point regarding the decrease in depth of vocabulary while education has increased, I think that the instant-gratification point above speaks to this a great deal. But, it's also, I think a bigger issue, though I am struggling at the moment to pinpoint that issue. Maybe it's a quest for knowledge over wisdom? Maybe it's a focus on status over obedience? Not sure. Great added thoughts, Coach!

  3. What a great idea Kari! I am a complete word nerd. I love them. Finding the right words to express emotions helps to keep us from acting out on them . . . especially negative emotions. And I do love combining words – "fantabulous" being one of my favorites.

    Did you know today is Word Nerd Day? I talk about it over at CMB today.

    I love Proverbs 13:3 – Communication is key in every relationship. I know I wish everyone could be as careful with their use of words online as they are face to face. And of course you could probably get a year of posts in how we use our words when we talk to our family members and ourselves.

    Wow, I can't wait to read more.
    My recent post It’s a Triple Holiday – Lots of Fun Ideas for Kids

    • Thanks, Deb. I did read your post today and smiled when I noticed it was Word Nerd Day. I'm not so much a "word nerd," I don't think as I am a proponent of taking time to clearly express yourself and, as Treebeard says in LOTR, to encourage a "Don't be hasty" approach in our communicating. What you say about having the right words to express emotions hits home with me. I made a point to teach my oldest just that, and he expresses himself very well at 15. He also is not held captive to his feelings much. My youngest, who only came to us 4 years ago at age 9, struggles with having the right words to express his feelings and thus struggles to recognize his feelings. I am trying to undo some of that in him, and I believe God will continue to do a miracle in his life in that and other areas like He has already. You're right, I could probably get a year's worth of posts on this topic, but I have others I want to get to this year too 🙂

    • Well then, the graphic apparently worked as intended. Good to know! When we realize that God holds us to absolute standards, that is where we realize why we are to fear or respect Him.

  4. I struggle with those little squiggly lines under my manuscript also Kari. While writing a sermon one will appear. I know it is a word. I've heard it and used it. Come on people! What does some computer know? 🙂 So will stop what I am doing and do the review of grammar. Nope not a word. Or Nope that is not how its spelled. It is how I spell it thank you very much. But i also know where you are going with all this. Words are so important. Funny, you and I must have been on the same track today. ROFL. Hmmm that computer allowed ROFL but not Hmmmmm.
    My recent post Names

    • I notice our similar tracks today too, Bill. What I am learning is that we learn the rules in order to break them with skill. At least, that's how it works in writing. In school and as a teacher, the focus was on the rules, the "right" way to write. Now that I am a professional writer (still strange to say), I can break the rules in a way that is more "right" than the "right" way. As for the computer, it's a guide. Now, my kids take it as a bible for correctness and rely on it to a fault. Doing so can and will burn (and embarrass) you. Rules are guides, and nowhere is this more true than in writing and even speaking. It's when people break the rules too much that they lose emphasis; either that, or it becomes painfully obvious they are simply trying to be relevant. From a church member to a pastor, don't do that 🙂

  5. "Unforgiveness" is the one that gets me. Where did it come from? I tend to use it a lot, but I couldn't find it in any of the Bible versions or translations I searched online. So weird! As for words, I take them very seriously maybe to the point sometimes of over-cautiousness. Scriptures that talk about our being held accountable for every idle word come to mind (not that I'm certainly not guilty of plenty of idle words). Love what you've laid out here and look forward to more. Thank you, Kari.
    My recent post Light Friday Hit List

    • Yeah, that one got me too. I like to look up the meanings of words and even more so to look at synonyms, and this is how I discovered "unforgiveness" wasn't a word. Oh, the red squiggly line in my word processor helps point these things out too. I get the meaning behind it, but I'm wondering if there isn't a better way to express what the made-up word is trying to say. Taking words seriously means you take God's Word seriously. I am over-cautious when it comes to face-to-face conversations because I don't think quickly enough to always clearly say what I mean to say. I like writing because I can think my thoughts through, taking more time with them as well as not feeling the pressure with someone standing there waiting for my response. My over-cautiousness during face-to-face conversations often results in me saying very little. Depends on a lot of factors and variables though. Still guilty of plenty of idle words too, but I am becoming more aware of them and my desire to correct the problem is increasing. Hope the "more" coming lives up to expectations 🙂 Looking forward to the additional input from you!

      • Sounds very similar to me. I need processing time which is why I prefer email to phone. I'm better than I used to be, but it's still a struggle because as you say, people seem to demand a response right then (whether that's real or perceived, who knows). And when I say over-cautiousness, I did mean in interacting with people not in God's word. Good conversation starter, Kari! And I have no expectation other than you'll share your heart and whatever God is giving you so it's all good. 🙂
        My recent post Light Friday Hit List

        • Interesting to consider what's real vs. what's perceived in conversations. My husband is naturally good at conversations and being social, but I think it's partially because he's okay with silence and because he's not overly aware of himself, others, the context, etc. I get uncomfortable with silence and almost feel pressure to "perform" in my response. Plus, I am very over-conscious (highly sensitive person) to everything going on in and around me. I'm not autistic, but it gives a hint at what an autistic person experiences. Anyway, I learn a lot from him, and I rely on him and friends who are like him to help me socially. God has given me wonderful people to help me in this area. I don't have to become them, but I feel held up and encouraged by them. And your point about interacting with people NOT in God's Word needs seriously considered. First, our expectations should be very different between Christians and non-Christians. Second, our expectations must also differ between Christians in the Word and not in the Word. We simply cannot expect the same things. What saddens me is the increasing lack of those in God's Word. Just read 2 Timothy this morning & realized how much our culture is exactly like Paul describes. Fortunately, Paul also gives us very specific instructions for how to interact and live in this culture.

  6. Love this idea, Kari. Along the same line, one of my biggest frustrations is the widespread use of these and other slang terms. Many in our culture simply repeat the popular terms of the day without even considering their meaning or the fact that they may not even be words at all.

    For example, the word "epic" has completely lost its meaning because of its overuse in the past few years. While it is an actual word, it has lost its original meaning.

    A coworker once used the phrase "cray cray," and I had to ask what she meant. My avoidance of pop culture apparently served me well in this instance.
    My recent post What Could We Accomplish If We Stopped Gossiping?

    • Even though I find them slipping into my talking and even into my writing at times, I am also bothered by clichés and slang. Sure, I get that the reason clichés become such is because of the impact of their meaning. To some extent I can accept their use, but at some point they become unoriginal, lose meaning through overuse and fall prey to lazy minds. I also get that slang provides a way of self expression. But what is the use if communication suffers as a result? If division comes about because not everyone understands the slang? In addition to "epic" I would add "mind-blowing." The problem with this over-use is what if something truly is "epic" or "mind-blowing"? How am I supposed to express that when the words now have ordinary, everyday meaning? I'm not into pop culture either, though I do get some exposure from my two teenage boys. They aren't into pop culture too much either, but since their friends are, they do pick some of it up. (Though, my oldest loves movie music, which is what he listens to on his Ipod and plays on his piano.) Pop culture is a whole new discussion in itself and unfortunately seems to epitomize what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy (just read this morning).

  7. What fun this will be! I always make fun of those unintended quotation marks around words that people want to emphasize. The other day at the market someone put quotation marks around the word "fresh" just before meat. This made me flinch!

    • I hope I live up to your expectations for "fun." I know it will at least be a detailed journey. Quote marks are definitely over-used. You also reminded me of another word-related pet peeve of mine. Signs that use incorrect grammar or that change the spelling of words because they think it's clever. Official notice: It's not clever. THAT makes me flinch.

  8. I find that I personally use my own dictionary. I will often make up my own words to fit what I want…such as, "wafing" and even the word ain't. However, when I hear someone else use made up words or improper grammar, I raise an eyebrow and repeat their word back to them in question. I think my "dictionary" of words come from my "talk before I think" and "keep talking until I have something to say" behavior. Words are important. I think my filter has become more refined but I always have room to grow.

    • I don't think you're alone in that habit. Often, when something really bothers us, it's a red flag for something with which we struggle. But, you? Struggle with thinking before talking? Naw! You have definitely improved with your filter over the years I have known you. I'm very proud of you for that, actually, because I see how hard you've worked to make that happen. We ALL have more room to grow. We're in a lot of trouble if we don't think we do.

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