Tag Archive | language

Word Nerd Ramblings- Words or not words?

Mark Twain was quoted to say . . . “What is the real function, the essential function, the supreme function, of language? Isn’t it merely to convey ideas and emotions? Certainly. Then if we can do it with words of fonetic brevity and compactness, why keep the present cumbersome forms?”

I think this quote is quite fitting of the following subject of my current ramblings. I don’t entirely agree with Mr. Twain. I don’t wish to see our words changed for the sake of brevity and compactness as some would seemingly like to do, as is illustrated by the bombardment of text-speak and the changing definitions of pre-existing words – the dictionary now says the redundant and annoying use of irregardless now means regardless.

I value words, their form, their substance; I don’t want to see them changed. Sadly, at least to me, shortcuts and text speak are insidiously sneaking into our everyday vernacular in both spoken and written words. That being said, there are many words, debatable words, we already accept and embrace that are the epitome of phonetic brevity.

Disclaimer – While I love and adore my words as they are, I must admit I often wonder why the creators of them spelled them as they did – Weird and wonderful are the words I adore.

I was compelled to compile a sampling of some of these phonetical words when I started thinking about words in the English language without any vowels. I think about weird, wordy things often. Whether or not there are in fact English words which contain not a single vowel is an interesting conundrum, one often argued among linguists and lexicologists.

The most cited example of a vowel-less word is crwth, not an English word actually; it is a Welsh instrument resembling the violin or a noun referring to music, according to Random House Unabridged.

Another word without vowels is again, a Welsh word, cwm. A noun meaning valley in Random House and a noun meaning steep bowl-shaped hollow occurring at the upper end of a mountain valley, especially one forming the head of a glacier or stream, as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

There are other words though, words much more familiar for those of us who do not play the crwth or live in a crw. Colloquial coinages argued ad nauseam by wordsmiths and wordies. Words or words not, they are indeed found in print and have also found their way into our everyday speech. Questionable perhaps, but there is little room to discount them as they are almost universally recognized and utilized.

One hotly debated word, yes, it has been debated hotly, is nth. Even spell check accepts this word as a word. Nth has a place of prominence as an adjective in Random House, American Heritage, Online Etymology and WordNet as, in combined definition, the last in a series of infinitely decreasing or increasing values, amounts, etc., of an item in a series of occurrences, planned events, things used, etc., that is thought of as being infinitely large, being the latest, or most recent, relating to an unspecified ordinal number: ten to the nth power. Highest; utmost ,1852, in phrase to the nth, figurative use of a mathematical term indicating indefinite number, in which n is an abbreviation for number, last or greatest in an indefinitely large series; “to the nth degree”.

Random House Unabridged and the American Heritage dictionary both include the word psst, defining it as interjection, used to attract someone’s attention in an unobtrusive manner or used to capture someone’s attention inconspicuously. Psst has also found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.

ZZZ has an entry in both as well, simply defined as sleep in the American Heritage dictionary. Zzz is used to represent the sound of a person snoring in Random House.

Also found is the word pfft. An interjection used to express or indicate a dying or fizzling out, also ft or phfft, used to express or indicate a usually sudden disappearance or ending.

Tsk is also written into the history of words in Random House as an interjection used often in quick repetition as an exclamation of contempt, disdain, impatience etc, For shame! Listed use as a noun, an exclamation of tsk. Verb, to utter the exclamation tsk. Also tsktsk. The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language has this definition, interjection used to express disappointment or sympathy. Noun – a sucking noise made by suddenly releasing the tongue from the hard palate, used to express disappointment or sympathy. In WorldNet it is represented as a verb, tsk as in disapproval. And again in the Online Etymology Dictionary, sound expressing commiseration or disapproval.

We’ve all shh’d someone before, I’ve shh’d and I’ve been shh’d, usually by the same person who tsk, tsk’d me. The entry for the shh in Random House is simply an interjection. I guess they are keeping the definition hush, hush. Hmm, or h’m is also an interjection used typically to express thoughtful absorption, hesitation, doubt or perplexity according to Random House.

Some argue these onomatopoeic words are simply expressions of sounds, not worthy of word status, but nowhere in any of these distinguished volumes did I find confirmation of this stance. I can find no true disagreement to the validity of these words. If we are basing their status solely on appearance, an argument can be made however, when they are pronounced properly, some do indeed make a vowel sound.

Another case for a vowel challenged word has been made for commonly used acronyms and abbreviations. Have you ever asked the time and had someone respond with the hour and minute in post meridiem or anti meridiem? I think it is safe to say most would answer with a resounding P.M. or A.M., both of which have entry in the aforementioned dictionaries. This would open the door for B.C., RSVP, P.S., and other common initializations and abbreviations.

I wonder if we could take it even further and include @ and & as words . . . We use them as shortcuts knowing anyone reading will say at for the @ symbol and & will be read as and. Comic strips have used these symbols for years as words in disguise. We call this a grawlix,“%#$@. I’m stretching now, I know, but then again, who would have thought zzz was actually a bona fide, dictionary bound word?

I’ve not even touched the ever controversial vowel, not really a vowel, sometimes Y. Gym, hymn, rhythm and rhyme will always be vowel words in my mind. Feel free to debate, but it’s a moot point with me. I will sum up this unusual essay with my almost hypocritical support of these odd words without vowels. I say hypocritical because of my almost universal opposition to many and most of the newer words being popularized today.

Many of the words I’ve referenced here though, I have used in both spoken and written form so I take my stand and declare them words. They may not be found in every journal of known words but they have in fact been recognized and therefore they exist. Perhaps ten years from now I will embrace words like hashtag and not feel a well of annoyance when I see LOL. I’m certain it will always annoy me when people say it though.

Crystal R. Cook

#confession, #1000speak, #octothorpe



I have a confession to make.

I hate hashtags. I love octothorpes. At least, I love the word associated with the symbol commonly known to most these days as, and I cringe to say it, a hashtag.

I am not entirely certain why I have such disdain for the new terminology. I don’t deal well with change. I realize octothorpe is archaic terminology, some even dispute its correctness, but I embraced it long ago. It has been called many things, pound sign, number sign, hash mark; none of which I have ever objected to, but for some reason, hashtag annoyed me the moment it became a thing.

I vowed to never, ever, not ever use a hashtag. Perhaps it was my way of rebelling against the text-speaking society we have become. It bothers me to see my beloved words reduced and mangled and mashed, I don’t want to spend precious moments deciphering messages like a spy.

I tried it once. I wrongly assumed WTF meant way too far; the conversation did not go as planned.

Back to my confession, I have embraced, semi-sort of and in a round-about way, the hashtag. Not entirely mind you, and it wasn’t without hesitation, but the reason for my change of heart is worthy. Well worthy.


1000 Voices for Compassion. Well worthy indeed.

The blogosphere is filled with amazing, talented, beautiful people and two of these beautiful people had a conversation, one that led to an idea, a glorious idea. They realized our world needed to embrace compassion, and indeed it does. Because of their compassion, a movement has begun.

The idea of 1000 bloggers, 1000 voices from around the globe coming together on the same the day to share a message. Brilliant.

On February 20, 2015, the interwebs will be inundated with words of hope, kindness, acceptance, and love . . . It will be filled with compassion, because of compassion.

It doesn’t have to stop at 1000 voices, we all have a voice. We share a global platform from which we can shout out this message, the world needs to be reminded compassion can change us, it needs to change us.

I invite, challenge, encourage, and implore you to join us on February 20th to share your thoughts, ideas, and from the heart feelings. You don’t have to be a blogger or a writer or a poet, simply share your message of compassion with your Facebook families, your Twitter fans, your Instagram and Tumbler friends.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag.


Crystal R. Cook

Are we losing our written language skills?


I have a precious piece of history I keep tucked away in a silken little box, it is a letter. I take it out and look upon it every now and again, careful not to damage the decades-old paper. I am enraptured by the beauty and attention paid to every stroke of each letter. I am in awe of the thought and care put into the choosing of every word, each flowing into the next as though they were always meant to be one. It’s a simple letter, yet so much more; it was written in a time when words were used with pride and given a place of honor and prestige in the world. There is magic woven throughout the beautiful tapestry of the words.

As a writer I respect the written word. I am careful to properly use it. Spelling, grammar and punctuation seem to be fading, no longer important in the age of the social networking, email, and texting. Internet shorthand has become the norm for many, time is of the essence in today’s world and unfortunately, it seems to be creating ignorance and laziness when it comes to the way things once were in regard to the written word. Yes, efficiency is essential, but at what price? What of words? Should they fall to the wayside, giving way to acronyms and simplistic shortcuts?

I am often sent pieces to critique, usually from beginning writers seeking advice, I’m finding many of these writers are sending me not only creative works, but articles and essays with little to no punctuation and words chopped into pieces. They appear to have a non-existent grasp on grammar. I’ve read entire stories without capitalization, paragraph breaks or attention to spelling.

I am certainly not an expert and I make my fair share of grammatical missteps, but I certainly try to avoid them. Before you submit an assignment or an article expecting an editor to give it more than a passing glance, it needs to be written correctly and with care.

Recently, I found my youngest son copying and pasting the definitions to his vocabulary words. When I read the assignment sheet, I was shocked to find this was the instructed method given. It was disheartening to say the least. Teachers are accepting what should be considered substandard work from their students.

How are they to learn if they are not held accountable? If they are indeed being taught the basics in schools, why are they not expected to utilize what they have learned? High school students are graduating with the handwriting of grade school children simply because they were allowed to type their assignments as opposed to writing them.

I am quite thankful computers were not around when I was in school to be quite honest. One may argue I am a bit hypocritical as the medium used to share this opinionated rant of mine was indeed typed upon a screen, before it was written here however, it was first penned to paper by my own hand. Human flaw is inevitable, none are immune to mistake, but there is something immensely satisfying in a job well done, to the best of your ability.

I fear for what the future holds if the fundamentals of writing are lost. I admit to being one of the many dependent on the Internet, but I will not forego all I’ve learned because of it. Our language skills are lacking in the spoken form as well, slang has replaced everyday speech and this seems to be acceptable to the masses, even making it into well-known and respected dictionaries.

I do believe we are losing many skills in the area of language. We all express ourselves through the written and spoken word, many are leaving a very poor impression. We can change this trend by showing the younger generation the immeasurable value of the written word. We need to impress upon them the importance of punctuation, spelling and grammar.

We tend to speak the way we write, we tend to write the way we speak. We need to place greater focus on what we are teaching the younger generation, we must do this by example, expectation, and praise. I’m not implying we forgo conversational speech or even the ultra-relaxed slang which has become as ingrained in our language as the letters which form them, I am simply saying we mustn’t forget the importance, the power, and the necessity of the written word as it is meant to be written.

Preserving the written word is a worthy undertaking which would benefit all.

Crystal R. Cook

Raising Potential Writers

A good writer is first a good reader . . .

William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read. Read everything trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.”

Introducing children to the world of literature is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, regardless of whether or not writing is in their future. Before they can read, read to them, help them fall in love with words.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Sir Richard Steele

Books captivate and spark imagination. Once they begin to read, they begin to learn, let the masters be their teachers. When I was six years old I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, I was enraptured by the tale and soon sat down to write a story of my own. Some children seem to be born with a story within them, just waiting to be told.

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.” Mark Twain

Teach them to speak properly. If they are to write, they must know how to speak, and speak well. The proper use of words and a good vocabulary will only serve to enhance every aspect of their writing as well as their future relationships and employment opportunities. This is something you can do from the time they are babies, baby talk can be fun when it’s time to have fun, but I’m a firm believer that children need to be spoken to in the way we want them to one day speak.

Encouragement will foster confidence; too much encouragement can lead to disappointment, reserved honesty is sometimes best. I would never tell my children something was wonderfully written if it were not, instead, I would find the good in it, then offer suggestions for the parts that could use some attention. Read what your child writes and tell them you want to read more, your enthusiasm will fuel their own.

“There is only one trait that marks the writer. He is always watching. It’s a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it.” Morley Callaghan

Teach them to see the world around them, help them become constant observers. Inspiration comes in many forms; sometimes the most insignificant of things will lead us to the most significant thought. It teaches them to be aware of themselves and all that surrounds them. It teaches there is so much more to be seen than most people realize, they’ll learn to see what others may not, they’ll experience so much more of life when they learn to look beyond the ordinary.

Two of my four children are writers, amazing writers, they are all avid readers and eloquent speakers as well. When they were young, one of their favorite pastimes was Mad Libs. Without realizing it, they were learning with each silly story. Before my daughter was five she knew what adjectives and pronouns were, she knew the difference between a verb and an adverb. They learned new words and how to spell them through family games of Scrabble.

I often sat with them, pen and paper in hand, and we wrote stories together, taking turns, paragraph by paragraph. Here they learned the proper usage of grammar and punctuation, they learned to be creative. They learned to show, not tell. They found their own voices within the words they penned to the page. Looking back on their earliest writing brings both smiles and tears, their innocence spilled upon page after page, they are some of my most treasured possessions.

“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad including your own bad.” Doris Lessing

I encouraged them to keep journals, it’s important to have a place to write anything and everything. To me, it is in the pages of a journal where you learn the most about who you really are. There can be no self-expression without a sense of self.

I taught them to never throw away what they’ve written, even if they thought it wasn’t the greatest, I urged them to tuck it away and maybe someday revisit and rework, or at the very least, look back on to see how far they’ve come. One of my greatest regrets as a writer is the loss of work I deemed unworthy at the time.

As teenagers, I encouraged them to write often, offering critiques and advice along the way. Constructive criticism can be a difficult thing to take in the beginning; they learned to grow from it. They found online writing groups and sought out those teachers willing to take time and become a part of their journey as they wrote their way into each new chapter of their lives.

Now, as adults, they continue to write as they pursue other dreams and opportunities. Their ability to express themselves in both the written and spoken word is remarkable and rarely goes unnoticed. It wasn’t my intent to raise writers, my goal was to teach them the importance of words, language, and expression. The words we say follow us through life, they can open doors or they can close them.

I place great value on words, they are how we let the world know who we are, what we stand for, what we desire, need, and cherish in life. Their worth is immeasurable. Teaching a child the wonder of words, not just how to say them, but how to feel them and bring them to life, is as I said, a gift.

Crystal R. Cook

The Chaos by G. Nolst Trenité

The Chaos by G. Nolst Trenité

They say if you can properly pronounce each word with proficiency, you’ve mastered our marvelous language with honors . . . Read it aloud and see how well you do!

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!