An Experiment in Words

We all love reading don’t we? At least those of us who even bothered to click on a blogpost like this! But what’s the best part of the reading experience?

For me it’s a combination of factors that make the reading experience so worthwhile—at least on the printed page.

First, it’s clearly the content (the message) that keeps me engaged, whether fiction, non-fiction or that strange place in between—speculative non-fiction.

Secondly, for me it’s the medium: the printed word; and in particular the typography on the printed page. Layout and type choice matter, as does paper stock and binding; the smell and sound of printed books. It’s what drew me into academia in the first place! As a child growing up we weren’t surrounded by books and we were not particularly wealthy, so to be able to read and choose one of the 1000s of books I now have is a complete joy.

But there’s a third aspect to reading that I think requires special attention: new words!

When we encounter a word that we are unfamiliar with it can illicit two responses: either “what does that mean?” Or “what on earth does that mean and why is the author trying to be so smart…I keep having to look up words”.

Now, when I’m reading fiction for pleasure, the looking up of a word (either in my Collins printed dictionary which is beautifully typeset or on my iPhone) it can be an irritation. After all, I’m reading this to relax and now I’ve got to do some work! By contrast, looking up a word when reading for scholarly activity or for common interest can be illuminating.

To help in this process of word understanding, I use a thin piece of cardboard that I retain from the inside of a box of Twinings tea bags. (There are usually two in a 100-bag box of Assam—my preference). When I see a word I don’t know, I look it up and then make a note of it on the cardboard which I also use as a bookmark.

I have now a gathering pile of these teabag bookmarks with words and their definitions neatly scribed in pencil or 0.4 pen. Which got me thinking. What am I going to do with this new-found knowledge? How can I possibly retain these words and add them to my written or oral vocabulary? The answer, Dear Reader, is in the blogpost.

I’m going to start to write some experimental pieces on here using the words that I encounter, so that I can cognitively engage in their meanings and add them to my repertoire. After all, the process of writing is, in itself, a creative act of learning and memory storage.

Let’s start with a word I encountered only a few minutes ago in Peter Singer’s Why Vegan? published by Penguin as part of their Great Ideas series.

The praise heaped upon her and her people was euphonious. They’d received so much criticism up until now for their radical ideas; now finally they were vindicated by the chorus of voices that praised the manifesto. It had achieved a great deal for progressives and was changing human lives for the better.

I love the sound of euphonious (!) I’ve never encountered it before. It isn’t just pleasing to the ear, but a great one to read and write.

So. The beginning of an experiment in words. I’m going to revisit the hundreds I’ve encountered and attempt to incorporate them into a narrative-non-fiction story. Wish me luck!