I have a box filled with words. Nearly all come from a decade-long obsession with page-a-day calendars. Each January, I purchase a new one—always a dictionary calendar with word origins. As I flip through, I squirrel away words that interest me. My recent post on Greek myth words came from said box.
The correct word in the right situation can give you power. I recall one time, years ago, when my boss was pontificating to all of us on a subject. I could tell he was making a big deal of a small thing. He had some sort of agenda about picture books and the best way to teach vocabulary. At the time, none of us would ever speak up to him. No one dared. We were all terrified.
I had finally had enough.There were things to do. More important than listen to a contrived lesson. I believe he asked us to define figurative language. So I spouted off: “It’s when the connotative meaning is different from the denotative meaning.” He didn’t know what those two words meant. (Denotative is the literal dictionary meaning and connotative is the implied or suggested meaning.) The lesson came to an abrupt halt.
I realized then how much power words can hold. Especially when people won’t challenge them.
One another time, at my writer’s meeting, one of our wordsmiths used “lubricious” in his writing. I had previously squirreled this word away, but had completely forgotten it. So I asked what it meant. There weren’t exactly giggles, but I could feel the awkwardness in the air. It was assumed that I should know. Still, I got my answer. (In this case, it carried the meaning of: intending to arouse desire.)
Sure it’s embarrassing to ask what a word means. It shows that you don’t know. But what’s worse, wallowing in ignorance, or simply asking? I advise this to my students every day. Ask the “dumb” questions. It’s a guarantee that many other people wanted to ask the question, but didn’t have the guts to come out and say it.