In our culture, the word “alienated” refers to a normal condition but look it up in a hundred-year-old dictionary and it is a mental illness. The Catholic church used the word “atheist” to mean disbelief in God, but that word originated with the Greeks who meant “godless, without a god.” We could write stories about time travelers from a hundred years ago who know we are mentally ill, or about people whom no gods want.

“Time” originally meant, “to divide.” Now we think of it as a dimension we can travel through. Preliterate peoples had no such concept. European companies introducing factories into Africa had to teach the natives how to divide their day into shifts. One company put a large alarm clock on a pole in the village and whenever it went off, workers in the village would go to the factory and tell those already there to go home. I doubt workers in the afternoon shift ever imagined that they could physically travel to that morning’s shift and work before they came to the factory.

People are more down to earth than I as a writer sometimes think. The word “human” originally comes from the Greek and Persian and Latin words for “earth, land,” suffixed o-grade form, “earthling.” Now that makes the sci-fi in me wonder. Could I write a story about travelers coming to Earth billions of years ago and messing with the DNA of cyanobacteria – so that we humans evolve? Oh, wait. I did. That’s The Phoenix Diary.

Writers’ heads are full of words and how we relate them in a story is what makes the story ours. We can choose the right meanings for the story and write fiction that is truth. Do I believe travelers came to Earth a couple of billion years ago? Maybe. The evidence is the 1.7 billion year old Oklo nuclear reactors pictured in the NASA photo above.
The photo is NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day,” from September 12, 2010.
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100912.html
NASA people say those nuclear reactors “must have formed naturally.” But what else could they say and keep their jobs?

Most people mostly say what is expected but expect writers to be creative, to say the unexpected. That’s fair. The oldest meaning of the word, “expect,” is “to observe.” Writers observe and express what they observe. We also play with our words in the process, to better describe the world we are observing. That may be what makes us writers: We like to play with words.

“Play” is a word that takes up a whole column in my large American Heritage dictionary. So many ways to play with that word! The original word root, in Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and possibly Latin, meant “to engage oneself.”
That is what we do with words, isn’t it?

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35 responses to “Word Play”

  1. Sandy Randall Avatar

    And getting lost in a dictionary is so much fun!
    Unintentionally I find I include a library in every novel length story I write. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical… I always include one. To me it the ultimate place to go when knowledge is needed… maybe one day I’ll include a virtual library in one of my stories… of course I may find Roy wandering about collecting late fees … 😂

    Liked by 5 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      Roy’s parttime employment as a teen was in the local library -until he was caught taking books out of the nighttime drop box and holding them to collect late fees.

      And yes! Libraries are one of humanity’s greatest inventions. Civilizations rise and fall. But so long as libraries exist, we have a chance to rebuild faster. I gotta wonder though, what will happen to all the knowledge on the Internet when our own civilization one day falls.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        I’m not worried … Otero, Rhia and Marc will take care of us …

        Liked by 3 people

        1. GD Deckard Avatar

          LOL! Happy New Year, Sandy!

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Sandy Randall Avatar

            Likewise GD! Een gelukkig nieuwjaar to you as well! (I love language! lol)

            Liked by 2 people

  2. victoracquista Avatar
    victoracquista

    I’m in favor of more play, words or otherwise. How do I want to play today? When you are playing, time either ceases or becomes a nuisance. Primitive cultures spent most of their time not working but in doing non-work activities. Some of them were creative pursuits, many were simply enjoying the moment and having a good time.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      Can I move there??

      Liked by 2 people

      1. GD Deckard Avatar

        Forget it, Sandy 😝
        Primitive people may have had more time to play, but we have painless dentistry.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. victoracquista Avatar
        victoracquista

        I’m hoping that past is prelude. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/for-95-percent-of-human-history-people-worked-15-hours-a-week-could-we-do-it-again.html
        As a wise person pointed out to me once: “Work is a four-letter-word that ends in ‘k’.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sandy Randall Avatar

    True GD … Of course I hadn’t considered a dental or medical plan and at my age … that’s a key industry I don’t want to forget!
    Fortunately I write and can lose myself in a world like that or read about that world …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sandy Randall Avatar

    A couple of other thoughts about this.
    A 100 year old dictionary. That’s a time capsule. But it’s also a glimpse into how people understood the world. What a fantastic concept. Thank you GD for pointing this out. A treasure chest. But of course you have thought of this. You wrote about it in Phoenix Diary. Maybe not specifically, but the concept winds it’s way throughout the story.
    (For reference, They have just entered the house in Denver, I know I am reading ever so slowly. It’s been my guilty pleasure when I get a moment of quiet. Lately it’s been the fifteen minutes before I go in to make coffee. )

    Just writing this post, you have added some extra inspire to my week and for that, Thank you.
    The blogs and showcases are instant inspiration for me, as well as giving me other avenues to solve story problem (Sorry John and Sue, not the math variety … I despise those because I forget they’re math problems and I want to fix the plot problems …)

    Finally, you give me many ideas for what to write for Writers Co-op. I hope to contribute another topic at some point soonish.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      Sandy,
      I have been in that Denver house. It’s Molly Brown’s house:
      https://mollybrown.org/
      Molly’s house (and Molly) are principle in a short story in The Rabbit Hole, Vol 4, “Molly and the Bandit“. I love her real story. Molly Brown was a quintessential American woman. I enjoyed touring her mine in Leadville and if they ever raise the Titanic, I’d put visiting her stateroom on my bucket list.

      Denver likes to commercialize its history -a good use of capitalism because it preserves what is valuable. (I’ve always said if you want to save the whales, make them fast food.)
      A favorite Denver restaurant of mine is “Etta’s Place.” Remember the schoolteacher & outlaw woman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?” Her Denver home has been preserved as a public restaurant, complete with her clothes on a mannequin on the landing of the winding staircase.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        I had the feeling Molly Browns house was a real place. I will have to think on it a bit, but there is some memory from way back in my teens about Molly Brown. I think my best friend at the time did a rendition of Molly Brown for our Speech Team. If I remember right, it was hilarious. My friend was brilliantly gifted at Speech, I on the other hand failed miserably and should have stuck to just writing lol.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sandy Randall Avatar

        Oh now I have to go see Molly Browns house. I just read through the website …. Yes, now I remember her. “The unsinkable Molly Brown” My oldest son and his wife live in Denver. The next time I visit them … we are going to Mollys house. My sons wife will absolutely love it. By the way … My youngest daughter was asking me for books to read … I put Phoenix Diary on the list and told her how best to obtain it. Her friends read too …

        Liked by 3 people

        1. GD Deckard Avatar

          Thank you for adding my book to the reading list!

          You will enjoy Molly’s house. Wonderful furnishings, rooms, spaces – even the outside looks incredible. You just know someone with a flair for life lived there.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    I am always looking for interesting words, interesting phrases, but more than that, interesting concepts.

    I just finished ‘Follies of God’, in which Tennessee Williams and his favorite actors talk about the process of creating a character, of inhabiting a role. I find this discussion incredibly valuable. It comes out of discerning motivations and intentions beneath, behind, and even beyond the speeches. A playwright is wise to listen to the input of his actors who, presumably, have been chosen for their interpretive gifts.

    I listen to what Sly has to say. After all this time, there is still much to learn about who he is, what drove him to achieve what he did.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      ‘Follies of God’, by Tennessee Williams
      Thank you, Mimi – I didn’t know about that!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    A brief note: I’m both endlessly fascinated and pleased that English has refused to standardize its rules of spelling in order to preserve the etymological richness and history of the language. (Fun fact: “tavern”. Ancient Etruscan word 3000+ years old. Still in use today.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      (Fun fact: “tavern”. Ancient Etruscan word 3000+ years old. Still in use today.)
      Makes one wonder what the vintners buy, one half as precious as the stuff they sell.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    I collect words that might have been used in the sixteenth century.

    Scutch – to be a real pain in the ass, to antagonize without stopping.
    Nebby: nosey or inquisitive. Also: sharp-tongued or cheeky.
    Pud – an abnormally weak and wimpy person. Perhaps from Scots pud (little fat man), a term of endearment)
    Swank (to strut, behave ostentatiously), related to Scots swank and Middle High German swanken, to sway.
    A surplussage of length.
    A very unket thing and bodes no good . . .
    A mort of money.
    A scrat and scrape life.
    A ripstitch-rantipole.
    None can go widdershins to that.
    Turn somersets in their agony. (Somersaults)
    Very mim and careful.
    Our six heads all nid-nodded.
    Home we’d go, dang-swang.
    Chumbled it up proper.
    In high feather.
    Knock it down, tiddly-bump.
    To holler Jiggin! And Haw-woop!
    Jimp as a fairy.
    Very glooming and drodsome.
    A thick, cruddled silence: curdled, congealed
    Barbary hen – a prostitute

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      I had a cat named Pud (pudderstons puss for formal occasions)… he was a ginger tabby… best cat I ever had!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. GD Deckard Avatar

      Wonderful list, Mimi. If you haven’t, and you come across one, check out “Paul Green’s Wordbook, An Alphebet of Reminiscence.”
      Paul Green, 1894-1981, collected words and expressions from folklore into this 2-vol set.
      It’s not from the sixteenth century, but it is a marvelous word-romp.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. mimispeike Avatar
        mimispeike

        It just went onto my list of Books to Buy. Thanks.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. victoracquista Avatar
      victoracquista

      What a great list!

      Like

  8. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    Snollygoster: a one with intelligence but no principles
    Peg Puff: a young woman with the manners of an old one.
    Fudgel: the act of giving the impression of working without doing so.
    Grumbletonians: people unhappy with the government.
    Hum Durgeon: an imaginary illness.
    Guroke: someone who stares at you eating, hoping you’ll share your food.
    Shivviness: the uncomfortable feeling of wearing new undergarments.
    Crapulous: feeling ill as a result of eating too much food.
    Mugwump: someone in charge who affects to be above petty squabbles.
    Ultracrepidarian: someone who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about.
    Jargogle: to confuse or jumble up.
    Callipygian: having well shaped buttocks.
    Lanspresado: someone who always conveniently shows up with no money.
    Cockalorum: a small man with a big opinion of himself.
    Zwodder: to be in a drowsy, fussy state.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. mimispeike Avatar
      mimispeike

      “Jargogle” is my favorite. It dates at least to 1692, when John Locke used the term in an article for a publication.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        I like Mugwump … my dad used to call us that when we were kids … I don’t think he knows it’s actual meaning… to him I suppose it sounds like an endearing term for a couple of rascally kids…

        Liked by 2 people

        1. mimispeike Avatar
          mimispeike

          I never thought about what mugwumps means. I do know that two members of the Mamas and the Papas were previously in a group called the Mugwumps. I don’t recall if it was John and Michelle or Cass and Denny.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. victoracquista Avatar
      victoracquista

      Fantastic! I know several ultracrepidarians. I suspect using the word makes me seem smarter than I am–kinda “takes one to know one.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sandy Randall Avatar

    Perhaps thats where dad learned the word … He’s a reader for sure and being a school teacher he’s done his fair share of writing … but English wasn’t his area of expertise …

    Liked by 3 people

    1. mimispeike Avatar
      mimispeike

      No good for Sly: The jocular word “mugwump”, noted as early as 1832, is from Algonquian mugquomp, “important person, kingpin” (from mugumquomp, “war leader”),

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        So not actually an English word … too bad … sounds like a good cockney word

        Liked by 2 people

      2. GD Deckard Avatar

        Another use of the word, mugwump, comes from Paul Green’s Wordbook, vol 2, pg 760:
        An ironical term for a leader, a well-known politician, a fence straddler:
        “His mug on one side of the fence, his wump on the other.”

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      What a great article!. I have read similar thoughts on this. I also read something not long ago and I have no idea where, when and who, but the general idea was the same. We work too hard and too much. The notion that we need to work long hard hours to “pay” for our lifestyles, our healthcare and our things, definitely reveal a state of imbalance with our priorities as a society.
      Now having said that, I am very happy to work on my writing, and painting for long hours. But for me it is a pleasurable pursuit. It is also broken up by dogs demanding walks, my stomach demanding food, and my brain demanding rest. Which is way different than spending eight to ten hours at an airport assisting the hapless travelers, and then another hour commuting home, only to wake up and do it again the next day. That was drudgery. So I agree with your hope that the past is a prelude to what could be. (I hope star trek is a prelude as well.) Another observation of this topic, is that society is built on the need to garner coin to pay for food, housing, healthcare (necessities), vacations, gifts, and things (wants), because we have switched from a larger barter system of goods and services to coin for goods and services.
      I think about these things, simply because I write fantasy and economic systems are very important to every societal group I write about. How are goods and services delivered, rendered and purchased? What, in my worlds, do my characters find of economic value.
      In this world, what do we find of economic value? I got a big lesson on this a couple years ago. We had to clean out my husbands, uncles house when he passed away. He lived in the house for fifty years. His son (who oddly enough passed away fifteen days after he did) collected (hoarded depending on your POV) lego sets, movies, figurines, and a number of other things. The uncle had some antique stuff.
      Guess what all that was worth? Nothing, UNLESS we wanted to do the work to market and sell it. With full time jobs, and no interest in legos etc …. it was easier to donate the majority of the stuff to St. Vinnies. The biggest value, was the house itself.
      So back to economics, and the value of stuff. It was going through that, my husband and I decided the value of stuff is a deeply personal thing. Few things, that most of us own are worth anything to anyone else. Coin, jewelry, and real estate. They left two vehicles. We all know how fast a brand new car devalues once off the dealers lot. If the car found in an estate isn’t a highly sought after collectors item, it’s worth very little.
      Why is that? In my opinion, the worth is driven by demand. Demand is driven by marketing. OY! that hits close to home …
      So back to working … As a society we’re in a pretty pickle with this hamster wheel. Personally, I think working less would be great, but then how do you get people to buy into working essential jobs?
      I’m gonna stop there or this will become a pointless novel! lol

      Liked by 1 person

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