The Power of Words

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 25, 2011 11:50 PM

As a writer, I am naturally enamored with words, all of them. The ones I know and even the ones I don’t. One word can alter the course of a conversation, even change the course of a relationship. The right word can bring both smiles and tears, sometimes simultaneously. The wrong word can bring anger, fear and loathing.

I use words to make my living. Each day I stare at numerous blank Word documents, the little angry cursor blinking at me incessantly, waiting for me to put a word, a string of words, a sentence of words that become a paragraph that become an entire article or story, down and to hit save. Years ago we didn’t need to worry about that; today we have to save our words.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the recognized authority on all things word-related, there are some 600,000 words in the English language though not all are in current use. Its second edition contains entries for 171,476 words that we use every day and 47,156 words that have become obsolete. There are also 9,500 derivative words, something formed from something else. Electricity from electric. There are also slang words. When you total them all up, there are over 250,000 words in use every day.

Shakespeare, one of the premier wordsmiths ever, used some 884, 647 words in his plays and sonnets, but his vocabulary was between 18,000 and 25,000. The average 16 year old has a vocabulary of 10,000 to 12,000 words. A college graduate uses 60,000 active words and 75,000 passive ones.

Half of the words we use are nouns, a quarter are adjectives and a seventh are verbs. The rest are exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes and more.

As a writer, I hope I use all parts of all words. I yell! I write and I read. I have books on a shelf. I have walked through a bookstore. I’m in love.

See what I did there? I used an exclamation, a conjunction, a preposition, and a suffix. I did not use more. Well, maybe I just did.

Words can wound or bring joy, they can dance or fall flat. They can describe a murderous plot with detail (in the corner of the dark room, a sliver of light oozed through the crack in the blinds, illuminating a tiny man; the shadow of an ax glowed eerily on the white wall), or declare undying love (I’ve been waiting for you all my life and suddenly, you walked in, ordered a beer and winked at me. And I was powerless to stop my heart).

In my arsenal of 60,000 active words I like ones like archaic, discombobulated, nebulous, nefarious, puppy. Is there a better word than puppy? Maybe puddle.

And of course one of my favorites from when I was in 5th grade and we had a contest to see who could make the most words from another word. The word was antidisestablishmentarianism. To this day I’m not sure what it means. But I know I won the contest.

That’s the power of words.

Oh, and there are 523 fabulous words in this blog post. 

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Wine

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 24, 2011 11:24 PM

Red. Preferably a syrah, preferably from the 2007 harvest, preferably from Zaca Mesa. Heavy, deep, walk-through-it, chew-on-it, go-to-bed-with-it-and-sigh syrah.

We went wine tasting tonight. Can you tell?

 

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Wednesdaying

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 23, 2011 11:50 PM

I no longer have a regular job with regular hours. I pretty much work most of the time and I’m OK with that because my commute is short – upstairs to my loft office – and I go to work in sweats and a sweatshirt most days. Shorts and a tee in the summer. I start work by 8 am and can often be found at my keyboard long after 10 pm. But I love my job; I’m privileged to make a living putting words together in pleasant sentences.

But even without Monday thru Friday, 9 – 5, there’s still something about Wednesday that inspires joy. By the time the phone stops ringing and the emails stop flowing, somewhere in early evening, a precedent is set. The week is more than half over. I guess old habits die-hard.

Wednesday is a great day and I love it. I wake up motivated and tend to be very productive. I finished a catalog, wrote an article, and five radio spots today alone. Around 9 pm I’ll settle onto the couch with my laptop to watch a little TV and relax, and begin looking forward to the rest of the week.

Tomorrow is Thursday and wine tasting. Friday is the end of the week, even for people like me who don’t have set hours. And the weekend is all about cooking and a good bottle of wine, maybe a movie and yes, more work.

But today is about Wednesdaying. Enjoying the middle and celebrating the fact that, by the end of this day, the day with the most letters in its name, I’m much closer to the weekend than I am farther away.

When I was young, growing up in New England, Wednesday was Prince Spaghetti Day. I remember the commercials, with a little boy running through the streets of Boston’s North End, his mother calling from a brick apartment building: “Anthony! Anthony!” We always had spaghetti on Wednesdays, either with meatballs or a Bolognese sauce. The parmesan cheese came from a green can with Kraft on the label.

Tonight we’re having fajitas. But in my heart it’s still Prince Spaghetti Day and I’m craving some good old-fashioned pasta.

Maybe this weekend I’ll make sauce. 

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Things I'm celebrating today

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 22, 2011 11:12 PM

The warm sun inside the cool air. The clouds dotting the blue sky. The weather report that says rain is coming, which means the prospect of a wet weekend.

A conversation with one friend and the reconnection with another.

A lovely glass or two of 2007 Niner Wine Estates Cabernet Franc, one of the best wines we’ve had in a while. Smoky, heavy, with a wet earth and roasted pepper nose and a taste that’s smooth and silky.

The comforting, thick smell of my dog’s fur. His dreaming, dancing feet on the hard wood floors.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” on USA and a young Harrison Ford.

A hot shower.

The touch of my husband’s hand as he gently moves me aside, reaching for his toothbrush.

The night and my big, California King bed with clean sheets and a fluffy comforter.

Living it out loud.  

What are you celebrating?

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Betsy

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 19, 2011 5:31 PM

 

Her name was Elizabeth Piper Rogalsky but everyone called her Betsy. She was my best friend’s sister and I only met her once but I knew of her life and her health struggles for nearly as long as she had them, which was close to 20 years.

Betsy was first diagnosed with cancer in her early 20s, Hodgkin’s, I think. She discovered another lump when she was 30 and on her honeymoon. It had returned. She sought treatment again and again beat it, but the chemotherapy so scarred her lungs that she eventually needed a lung transplant.

During all this time, she continued to work as much as she could. She went back to school to get her second master’s degree. She was going into social work, to use life’s gifts, which she celebrated daily, to help others.

Just a year ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. The doctors were confident that they had gotten it all because the lymph nodes were clean; no further treatment was necessary. But then it, too, returned, and then metastasized in her lungs. Her newly transplanted lungs.

Once again, she and her husband made the decision to fight. Betsy was a fighter, a lover of life, a liver of life. Her motto had long been the mantra made famous by the French naturalism writer, Èmile Zola. “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I will tell you, I came to live out loud.”

Betsy had a heart attack and died at midnight on September 4th, 2010, as the clock was rolling forward into a new day. She was just 42. Her passing still brings tears to my eyes, perhaps because she was so young, perhaps because she was so relentlessly positive through everything, perhaps because of my friend.

Perhaps because my sister is also 42 and I can’t imagine the loss. I have a mug she gave me years ago. It’s stained now from too much coffee and the occasional cup of tea. Inside the lip it says: “The bonds we have are everlasting.” They are.

Betsy came to live her life out loud; we’d all do well to emulate that. There is so much to celebrate every day.

So I’m starting today by celebrating Betsy and her passion to live. I'm celebrating my friend, my sister, and all sisters. I'm celebrating life because it can all too often be much too short.

And I, for one, came to live it out loud.

 

 

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