Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ho, hoe, whoa!

I love how I can take Santa’s classic greeting and slap an “e” on it and it becomes a garden implement. From ho to hoe with the power of one letter. If I slip a letter in front and one at the end, I have another word. That is pretty darn nifty. Since I’m a writer, I think words in general are amazing.

One of my favorite hobbies is to collect odd tidbits about words. For instance: did you know the word “hussy” used to mean housewife? Yep. Calling a woman a hussy went from descriptive to abusive. Why did it change? Ever so slowly, people used it in an increasingly vicious way.

Words can be amazingly flexible like the word “square”. You can have a square meal, you can square up the corners, you can make a square deal, and you call someone a square. Before 1950 it meant that person was a solid citizen with their head squarely on their shoulders, but ever so slowly it suffered the same fate as hussy. Calling someone a square now means a backwards-thinking person who just isn’t hip. Of course, folks generally don’t use it today. Calling someone a square nowadays would mean the name caller would be the square one for using a word so hopelessly dated. Like my use of the word “hip”.

Sadly, some words die from disuse. Words like “queme”, which means to please. Some words have been around longer than you think. Take for example the word “mellow” meaning laid back. Well, mellow has been in use since 1730.

If you can’t find a word that fits, why not make up your own. Shakespeare changed nouns to verbs or added suffixes and prefixes to get the perfect word for his tales. Writers of science fiction often create new words to describe things in their novels. The legendary sci-fi writer Larry Niven even created his own expletive called “tanj” which is actually an acronym for “there ain’t no justice”.

No matter what you do today, have some fun with words. Slip a few obscure words into your conversation and see if you can get them back into common usage, or make up a new word and share it with us here.


Savanna Kougar said...

Hey Anitra, I'm in the same love boat with words -- in love with 'em. I wish readers and publishers were more on the Bard's side when it comes to word usage. I do that and people go nutso, screaming with red ink ensues. But, that's okay. Tanj, that's good! I might have to 'borrow' that, unless it's against some code or law I'm not aware of. I've certainly made up words for my all my otherworld novels, cuss words among them. Words make up a culture, and the culture makes up the words. Just like hussy for housewife transformed into a negative use and is now returning to a more positive usage, the Hussies Romance Writers, and they're definitely proud of it!

Mel Hiers said...

Hi Anitra!

I think sometimes we forget (or at least I do!) that words are fun. Like Play-Dough for writers. Just to show I'm doing the work, I used "debauchery" "substantive" and "w00t." To defend the last one, I was playing World of Warcraft at the time. And it was Merriam Webster's #1 word of the year! :P