Aren’t words brilliant? You can use them for everything. You can take them and combine them and shape them into whatever you want, however you want. They can give you power, they can give you humility, they can give you insight, explanation, beauty.
I was reading over a book that I want to read to my class – The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett – and early on, Tiffany, our 9 year old heroine is thinking about the word sussuration and how much she likes it. It’s the sound of wind through leaves or grass and it alerts Tiffany to something odd that’s about to happen. I love that sussuration is included in a children’s book. Would you get a word like that in the rainbow fairy series of books? Would you get a word like that in one of Katie Price’s children’s books? In Beast Quest? Or even in Harry Potter?
I’ve been thinking about words a lot recently and was prompted to write this by watching an episode of QI this evening. Apparently the collective noun for kittens is a kindle. Collective nouns may be some of my favourite words. On a trip to London last year I found a book and set of alphabet flash cards with illustrated collective nouns. Originally I bought the flash cards as a birthday or Christmas present for my older brother, but then decided he’d not appreciate them as much as I do, so I kept them with the plan to frame them and hang them somewhere – probably going up the stairs or something – when I have my own house.
Why do I love collective nouns? Why do I think this could be interesting to anyone outside of my head? I can’t really answer these questions, other than they make me smile, they paint pictures in my head and sometimes there is some really good alliteration. And perhaps other people will start to discover a joy of words that often gets drummed out of us by our education, or rediscover words that they’d forgotten they’d known.
An ostentation of peacocks
a troubling of goldfish
a drunkenship of cobblers
a siege of herons
a galaxy of starfish*
a parliament of owls
You get the idea. The flashcards, I think, are beautiful. Here’s some examples:
There’s a great list of collective nouns here.
We often dumb down our language or alter our choice of words depending upon the audience receiving them. We limit ourselves so that we aren’t judged by others as being ‘too clever’, or a ‘know it all’ or ‘being a bit pompous.’ It’s a natural thing to do, I am always adapting my vocabulary choices depending on who I’m with or what I’m writing. I think it shows that you have a good command over your language. But why not sometimes stretch yourself and those around you, why not try to describe how you are feeling in a different way instead of the stock phrases we all reach for – fine, OK, good.
According to this post on The Economist
- Most adult native test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 8 already know 10,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 4 already know 5,000 words
- Adult native test-takers learn almost 1 new word a day until middle age
- In a separate post, though, comes a surprising fact: the reading of fiction specifically is as important as reading generally. People who read “lots” and fiction “lots” outscore those who read “lots” but fiction only “somewhat” or “not much”. This is because a wider range of vocabulary is typically used in fiction than in non-fiction writing.
How many of your 20,000+ words do you think you regularly use? I’m on a tiny percentage I think.
I often use quotes from films and songs in this blog and, unless I am writing an aside about a person or group of people I’ve observed, all the titles are quotes. This has two reasons –
1. if someone searches for that quote or song this blog should show up and someone might read what I’ve written
2. often other people’s words are better than mine or more succinct to put my idea across.
In the past I’ve put on my Facebook that I wish everything I say was scripted by Aaron Sorkin or Stephen Sondheim. They are geniuses and I love the rhythm and the tone and the intelligence and the vocabulary. Not sure what Aaron Sorkin’s words sound like? Have a look here and then please comment below if you disagree with me and you don’t think that your life might be a little better if you could articulate yourself this well.
‘Words, Words, Words’ from The Witches of Eastwick.
Sukie sitting in the corner and well…just..you know.
Sukie tries to talk a little and well..just..you know.
Sukie rises up to speak and she almost…oh pooh.
Sukie sits back down politely and…here’s hoping that…you know,
cause I don’t have a clue.
Oh word, words, words, I can never find the words, words, words…
I can never find the words.
All these words inside me now, but not much inner peace.
All these words inside me now, just aching for release.
And if I said that I would listen, might that ease the doubt? yes,
if I said “I’m here to listen”, what would you like to talk about?
What would you like to talk about?
I’d like to talk about the night, I’d like to talk about the day,
I’d like to talk about the weather- but I guess thats just cliche.
I’d like to talk a little Latin, maybe talk a little Greek.
I’d like to talk about the arts- I rented “Hamlet” just last week.
I’d like to talk about my poems, why I shy away from rhymes.
I’d like to talk about that letter I had published in the Times.
I’d like to talk about Euripides, and Schopenhauer and Bach-
and if there’s any doubt remaining, I’d be happy just to talk.
But words, words, words, I can never find the words, words, words-
words, words, words, words.
I’d like to talk about the deepest sort of secrets that I hold,
I’d like to talk about the underlying truth if truth be told.
Talk about the touching that can bring the tension out…
I’d like to talk about the things I guess I shouldn’t talk about.
I’d like to talk about my feelings when the lights are turned down low.
I’d like to talk about my needs, above the covers and below.
I’d like to talk about my fantasies by light of evening star-
I’d like to talk about a lot of things!
And Sukie dear- you are!!
But words, words, words, words, words, words, words…!
I’d like to talk about the world I never get to see from home.
I’d like to talk about Curacus and the Pleiades and Rome.
I’d like to talk about the rise,
I’d like to talk about the fall,
or maybe talk about the doings at your basic Bachannal.
Oh, not that approve, but when all is said and done-
I mean, you gotta give them this,
the Romans sure could have some fun!
And then of course, you’ve got the French,
the Pakistanis and the Dutch, and tell me Darryl is it me,
or am I talking way too much?
I’d like to talk about the heroes that can always give me hope,
I’d like to talk about Debergerac, and Batman and the Pope.
Talk about the future, maybe talk about the past-
or maybe talk a lot of nothing, only say it really fast!
Talk about society, maybe talk abut the rot,
or maybe talk about the egrets…though I’d really rather not.
Talk about the meadows or the flowers or the birds,
I mean I’d talk about it all if I could only find the words!
I’d like to talk a bit of this, or maybe talk a bit of that,
or maybe talk a bit of Folderol and chew a little fat.
Talk about the A’s, maybe talk about the Z’s,
and try and make it through the alphabet as pretty as you please.
Talk about a book, or maybe talk about a play,
or maybe talk about a million things I’ll never get to say.
I’d talk about myself but who would give a damn?
I’d like to talk about a lot of things- and look at me,
I am! I am! I am! I am! I….am!!!
If you only click on one of the many links I put on here, then make it this compilation from the TV show Psych, with many of the pseudonyms that Burton Guster is introduced with. They had great fun writing that show. Someone please make me a T shirt with all of Gus’ names on it. Thanks.
I’m currently doing a very unscientific survey on Facebook about people’s favourite words and will let you know what I find out later in the week. If you want to add any of your favourite words or phrases then please comment below.
*according to Octonauts, we call them sea stars now. But then I still call Pluto a planet.^