Open Wounds

W is for Word

There is no W in Greek but work with me. Words are fascinating. If you’re a writer or a reader then you already know this. As a writer we manipulate our readers through a use of language to make readers think, see, and feel. It is a great power that if used well can initiate revolution.

Why do and did people study Greek language, use ancient Greek words? The theory was and remains (though not as strongly anymore) that if you wanted to learn how to think critically and discover the great ideas you needed to study Greek and Latin because that’s when it (civilization) really began in a meaningful way. That’s when the first great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Aeschylus, and Euripides (You rip a dese and I rip a dose nyuk nyuk nyuk) did their things. And if you read in their words, not a translation, then you read purely and without another’s perception of their words. I never studied Greek or Latin, just mythology and the great thinkers in the context of a history class, not a study of their ideas through words. In some ways I wish I had, or maybe… someday I still will. In any case, I’ve done that on my own since then because of personal interest. But words, for a writer remain a fascination.

Two books I’ve read recently take words as subjects unto themselves, make them plot points and character builders. They stand out for me as really great reads and partially because of the way this technique is used. Goliath, by Scot Westerfeld uses the word perspicacious in a fascinating way through the second and third books of his series. A Loris (read to find out, I won’t spoil it here but it’s a Darwinist genetically manipulated creature) is called perspicacious and the word is repeated enough times to know it’s important but you really need to read the whole book to understand its fully meaning in the context of actions and narrative. I loved the word and the way this one word stood out in the narrative like a bright christmas light calling to me to think, think, think what it might mean.

The other book is A.S.King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera, the protagonist’s, favorite class in HS is vocab. She is a wordsmith and uses new words in sentences as part of the narrative to show us what she thinks and how she feels. Her father (spoiler here, though still mysterious) has a sign taped to his back at one point with the word parsimonious on it. It is a culmination of his story all wrapped up in one word. I love the way the author did this. When I finished this book I spent a while staring out the window and thinking how the lives I’d just finished reading about reflected my reality – what their stories meant to me.

The best stories do this and the words make up the tale and the tale is what makes us think.

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