Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 28, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: A word a day can foster happy little belletrists


— Summer is coming, and, with it, what some people see as the season for “brain drain.” Schools, even home schools, most times are out over summer, and our textbooks sit silent under a thin layer of dust while we’re at the beach, in the garden or singing in the minivan on the way to a national park.

“Brain drain” is not a fair assessment of what happens over summers at our house, though. In fact, in some ways I’m convinced we learn more when we’re telling stories around a campfire or careening down a water slide than when our noses are buried in our books.

Still, to silence that nagging, “Are you sure they’re learning enough?” question that plagues organic homeschoolers like me, I plan to inject some reading-and-writing book work into our summer days. Somewhere between swimming and ice cream. Maybe. If we get to it.

Seriously, here’s one fun way I hope to do it. Every day — or, rather, whenever I remember — we’ll learn the meaning of a new word. Then we’ll use the word, maybe in conversation, maybe in written form.

I just now signed up for A.Word.A.Day at www.wordsmith.org, and I’m eagerly awaiting my first word to show up in my e-mail inbox tomorrow. I looked in A.Word.A.Day’s archives and found beauties like “cogent” and “bromide,” which I’ll need to find ways to use. There’s even an entire section of words derived from bodily fluids — a student nurse’s dream — featuring lovelies like “salivate” and “lymphatic,” words with which I’ve been acquainted, but never really intimate with until recently working in the hospital.

If you don’t use the Internet or just prefer a different way, open most any book, close your eyes and put your finger on a page. Then learn the word closest to your finger.

LEARNING NEW WORDS might not appeal to everyone, but it’s worth my time to attempt to convince you it should.

Here goes:

• New words beget more words, which beget more knowledge. Simply: When you learn a new word, you’re likely to find another new word or, at least, become curious about a new concept. You’re likely to learn. And learning, really, is the key to it all. I mean the big picture It All.

• Knowing more — words, concepts — likely helps you to better understand others or to be understood yourself. Imagine hearing from someone who uses words you don’t know — or vice versa. Clearly, that strains the relationship and could even be dangerous. Think of health care and describing a physical symptom.

• Sometimes there’s sheer impressive factor in learning and using new words. My 7-year-old daughter recently impressed someone when she used the word “dubious” in a conversation. I’m dubious she used it correctly, but still. Really, there are days I’m sure it’s my use of the words “visceral” or “peripheral” that convinces someone I’m smarter than I look.

ONCE YOU HAVE some new words in your vocabulary, make sure to use them. Like any new tool or toy, it takes some time to learn about them and to use them correctly.

You can always just tell someone, “Hey, I learned a new word. It’s ‘filipendulous.’ Wanna know what it means?” If your friendship with this someone is filipendulous, well, this might finally do it in.

Or you can find ways to use your new words in everyday conversation, like when you’re having coffee and chatting about “Whole Family.” To wit, “That Stephanie Price. She seems like she has such sprezzatura. What do you think?” “Sprezzatura” sounds like a fancy Italian dish to me, something that should include tiny pasta and basil, maybe. You’ll have to look it up. I do not have it.

Once you master basic uses, you can graduate to creative uses of your new words, something we writers call “poetic license,” relishing the freedom to play with words we’ve loved a long time.

I enjoy a conservative measure of poetic license once in a while. I am not stellar at geometry, but I love the words “tangent” and “adjacent” when I’m talking or writing about much more than math and shapes. You can call a person’s position, argument or opinion “anemic” or a teeny person “colossal” even.

Before you get to the poetic license stage, though, make sure of one thing: Know what your new words mean and use them correctly. There are few things more embarrassing than realizing you misunderstood what a word meant and used it wrongly more than once.

Who knew the “colon” is your intestine, not part of your nose? In the mid-1980s, when Ronald Reagan — may he rest peacefully — was diagnosed with a polyp in his “colon,” this fifth-grader did not. I thought he was having a piece of his nose removed and said so.

So dac-ing. (That’s slang for embarrassing.)

Make sure to get your words right — but get them. You’ll be gratified.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.