Sunday, November 24, 2013



How much do words impact our lives? How are we changed by new words that suddenly have a meaning where none existed before? Recently, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, and it led me to think about the words that are forever connected to that tragic event. For those of us alive on November 22, 1963, words like motorcade, book depository, and assassination suddenly became part of our vocabulary and took on new meaning. In fact, if you were young, you may have never even heard those words before, and yet for many of us, we will never hear them again without thinking about a day in Dallas that forever changed our lives. Just as the simple words in the turn of phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” are forever etched in our minds, so, too, are eternal flame.

As writers, words are so important. We work with words, live by words, and are always trying to find just the right word. Even in this digital age, many of us still have our well-worn dictionary and thesaurus near our desk in case we need to go in search of the perfect word to use in our writing. There are words that have special significance to writers: manuscript, submission, rejection, advance, royalty, review.

For students, words like assignments and pop quiz can strike terror to the heart. Bullying has become a commonly heard word in schools and in the media, as well as twerking (who knew what that even meant a few short months ago?) and guns. When I was a student (too many years ago to mention), the word gun was never even mentioned in the same breath as school, and yet today they are all too often associated.

Ask anyone who is dealing with a health issue and they will probably tell you how words like tests, appointments, doctors, and hospital have taken on new meaning for them. There are some words that stop you in your tracks, words that we dread hearing and hesitate to even mention, cancer certainly being one of them. Think then about what the word cure means.

Thankfully, there are words that make us smile: babies, puppies, kittens, birthdays, sunshine, and summer. The word vacation can make someone sit up and pay attention, especially someone for whom the words hours, overtime, and stress have become too familiar.

There are some words we’d all like to hear more: happy, content, dessert, and chocolate. And some less: crime, tornado, unemployment, and earthquake.

Then there are words that are new and some that have taken on new meaning: laptop, tablet, smartphone, and e-reader. 

This time of year, turkey, trimmings, holiday, cookies, shopping and gifts are heard more frequently, and after the New Year, it will be diet, exercise, and resolutions, quickly followed by the ominous taxes.

Words can make us happy or sad; show our weaknesses and our strengths; our stupidity or our knowledge. They can show how much we’ve learned…and how much we still have to learn.  They can tell someone how much we love them or how much we hate, and they can change the world. The numbers 9-11 have become a word in themselves, ones that gave whole new meaning to a simple date.

Where would we be without words? Words are power, words are who we are, and they make the world go round. What new words will be born in the year 2014? What words will take on new meanings? What words, because of some incident or new knowledge, will forever become part of our language, our repertoire and part of our civilization?  What words 50 years from now will still echo with the impact of those said on that fateful November day in Dallas?