Small Words

I find words fascinating. There are so many words that mean almost but not quite the same thing. Subtlety, nuance in spoken and written word thrill my inner word nerd. Picking the right word and saying it in just the right way…nirvana! Rhythm, assonance, rhyme, cadence, timber and tone are all facets of verbal mastery, and I adore the chase for that perfection.

Ever since I was the pesky little sister and my older brothers found peace while babysitting by handing me a dictionary and requiring me to learn ten new words before I could ask any more questions, I’ve been hooked on words. Big or small, rare or common, words are the keys to unlock a universe of possibilities. Of course, words can create whole new worlds to explore right in the comfort of your own mind or in the pages of a favorite book. But the same words, assembled in different ways, can form a love sonnet, a letter of rejection, a pledge of allegiance, or a declaration of war. Words are versatile and powerful and…fascinating.

Four years of studying Latin gave me an appreciation for the roots of the English language and an ability to decipher linguistic patterns and puzzles. I’ve been fortunate to build a broad and varied vocabulary through study at all levels of my education, as well as through observation in daily life. Learning and using new words or learning to use old words in new ways is almost a sport for me.

Law school was both a pleasure and torturous when it came to my love of words. It was a joy to learn amazing new terms and unique and specialized uses for old stand-by words. But law professors delight in squeezing every ounce of literary and linguistic creativity out of you, forcing you to write and speak in the simplest and fewest words possible. It was a valuable, yet painfully paradoxical, lesson in communication.

Part of that ‘less-is-more’ mind-set still lingers. I may stray into the verbose, using complex sentences in this blog. (It is, after all, my special spot to park all the thoughts boiling in my brain.) But I still appreciate simple words and short sentences. Clear communication is always my goal. That’s part of why I’ve developed a love of small words.

Oh, it’s definitely fun to use complex, multi-syllable words…they’re great tools for wow-ing some, confusing others and confounding foe and friend alike. But there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to say exactly what you mean, using simple, plain words.

Small words have big impact, big power. Some of the most powerful word combinations I have ever experienced are short, plain sentences of only a few small words:

I love you.
I wish you were here.
You are strong.
Please help me.
Be still.
You matter.
It gets better.
I’m here for you.
We can do it together.
You are right.
I miss you.
I need you.
You make me smile.
I was wrong.
I’m sorry.

One of the reasons I’ve taken such a liking to Twitter is that the 140-character limit forces me to express myself succinctly. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a new-found appreciation for micro-poetry, for much the same reason. Simple direct communication is a gift. Speaking your thoughts, sharing your feelings in plain words is a powerful form of intimacy. People respond to pure expression. I love that!

So, join me…let’s go use some small words to say some big things.

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