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Treasure Chests of Words...
Sources of Inspiration

2010 Anna Furtado


Words are important. They are the precious gems that writers string together in delicate lines to create a necklace of story to amuse, entertain, uplift and educate. A word is just a word. But word sequences can fascinate the reader and hold her captive. Have you ever read something and said, "I wish I had written that"? Words strung together form phrases and sentences that become paragraphs, chapters, and the magic that is story.

We start our learning process as babies. We learn all kinds of things. We know just where to point when someone says, "Where's your nose?" But as we grow up, we discover that there's a nose, there's knows, and there are noes (as in: many negative responses). There's blew, which you can do with your nose, there's blue, the color of the dog with the clues, or there are all those negative responses, that can make you feel feel blue. As we grow to adulthood, we may find that some words mean different things to different people-take, for instance, the words honesty and commitment.

Then, there are new words or the words used only within certain groups. Teenagers, or black youth, so-called technophiles, or any particular generation of people may use jargon that appears foreign to others. A grandmother today most likely would never have said that she was feeling groovy in the 60s, but her grandchild may well have used the phrase many times.

So wWhere do we find inspiration for our words? Where do we find the baubles that decorate our pages and make people want to admire them, put them on, and feel the emotion they evoke? Were do we find the right words when we are at a loss? How do we know the correct phrases used by ethnic groups, kids today, or some subset of a counterculture in the society about which we are writing?

Although you can't believe everything you read on the Iinternet, as they say, there are some great resources out there to give flesh to fresh words. When dictionary.com just isn't doing it for you, or when your beat-up copy of your thesaurus isn't yielding lovely trinkets for you to string along your necklace, try something different.

"Words give pleasure." Evelyn Waugh said that in 1950. Here are a few other things people said about words: "Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination." (Ludwig Wittgenstein) Boy, I wish I had said that! "Words...how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." (Nathaniel Hawthorne - 1848)

Want some terrific online sources of words to string along those lines? There are Double-Tongued Dictionary and Word Spy for the new word collector. At Word Spy you'll find things like "QWERTY tummy" (a [real] stomach illness caused by typing on a germ-ridden keyboard). Not only does that give us a phrase to use, it also conjures up a way to give a character a mysterious illness. At Double Tongued Dictionary, there's strap hanging, a military term. It's when truckers wait for a passing military patrol, then join the line of vehicles as protection. (Double-Tongued explains further: The alternative is seen in the remains of scorched trucks of drivers too impatient to wait for an escort that line the sides of the road.) Check out the Catchwords sidebar on this site for words that just might pique your imagination. There are links at the end of this article to point you to these sites, treasure chests of words waiting to be discovered.

By the way, Double-Tongued also has a blog. An interestingA notable article is entitled: "How much underworld slang is still used from 80 years ago?" That's the era that gave us screwy (crazy) and grand (as in a thousand dollars). If you're writing about the dark side of the 20s and 30s, this blog is one to check out - or try this for more era-specific words: search Google language of [year] and it's likely the returns will be many.

At Wordnik, pick up a word of the day or a random word. These can be as simple as moonglade (the track a full moon makes on water) or as obscure as boscage (a mass of growing trees or shrubs). I picked up a Random Word and got abranchiate (an animal that has no gills as a noun, or simply, without gills as a modifier).

Looking for a different word, or just for inspiration? Check out Visual Thesaurus. If nothing else, it's a novel way to play with words visually. A single word yields multi-nodes of relational words. I used the word concentration and got things like absorption and immersion on one node, and tightness and denseness on another. Hovering over the nodes gives you a clue to the path the next level is taking to relate to the central word. Clicking on one of the node-words will give you a snapshot of that particular word and its own nodes - and you can click farther on from there. Clicks on Visual Thesaurus are limited if you aren't a subscriber, but it can come in handy for a different way to find just the right word if you only need a few clicks. There is no limit on the number of times you can enter the site in the "Try" mode.

Check out Jargon Watch if you're looking for words with a technology and business focus. There you'll find adminisphere (The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.). Decruitment is also listed there. It's defined as "a corporate euphemism for laying off workers." You'll also find tourists there (people who take training classes just to have a vacation from their jobs).

Go to Wordlustitude for a humorous look at the wilder sense of the ways in which the English language is used (abysslyessness, voodoo-istical and whatever-whatever-ology). If you're looking for a word to substitute for gobsmacked or flummoxed, you'll find dumb-squizzled at this site. (Giggles may be a side effect of reading this site.)

For a real belly laugh, try Sniglets (defined on the site as "words that don't appear in the dictionary, but should be"). A couple of favorites are intaxication (euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with) and scribblics (warm-up exercises designed to get the ink in a pen flowing). Check out the site for more fun words. A clever term or phrase strategically placed can give the tension-filled scene you're writing some comic relief.

At the Word Detective site map, words are listed in alphabetical order. Click on something that strikes your fancy (or on a particular word or phrase you're looking for), and go to the blog for that word. Lot's of fascinating information here on word origins, evolution, and modern meanings. The columns are written with a lot of humor, making reading words about words very entertaining. The column on the use of the word macaroni is one such offering, macaroni meaning someone who thinks he's all that and a bag of chips, or used as a derogatory appellation in the song Yankee Doodle (...stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni).

And speaking of all that and a bag of chips, go to the Urban Dictionary, where this term, along with other contemporary terms, is defined. I like tongue-typo (when you know what you want to say and it comes out wrong) and screenior citizen (someone who spends all her/his time in front of the computer or TV). At this site, you can choose a letter of the alphabet and hover over a word to get the "urban" definition, most of them pretty funny. If you want more about the word, click on it to expand the information.

Set out on your journey of discovery to find treasure chests of words to string together to make something enchanting. Click on the links below and begin expanding your word horizons. Happy word-hunting.
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Double-Tongued Dictionary
Word Spy
Wordnik
Visual Thesaurus
Jargon Watch
Wordlustitude
Sniglets
Word Detective
Urban Dictionary
Article: How much underworld slang is still used from 80 years ago?
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Anna Furtado is the author of The Heart's Desire—Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles (a Golden Crown Literary Society Award finalist); The Heart's Strength—Book Two of the Briarcrest Chronicles; and The Heart's Longing—Book Three of The Briarcrest Chronicles. Anna is also a featured columnist at Just About Write (JAW) and contributes book reviews to JAW, as well as at the L-Word fan site in the literature section.


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