Word Play


Orthography: the art of writing words with the proper letters, according to accepted usage (most of the time).

One of the more complex and responsible tasks of being an editor is keeping the interest of the constant stream of interns who spend a short time with us.
Whilst abilities and ages vary, (from 14-year olds through to MAs in journalism), their knowledge of how to use words is an interesting and infinite source of surprise. Finding ways to encourage and increase respect for the ‘word’ and the value they bring to their work can be rewarding.

There is usually a hunger for knowledge and curiosity to be found in everyone (more dormant in some), and in the early days of the paper, in an attempt to utilise these skills we used to take time out for ‘word play’.

Each of the team were charged with selecting two words from the dictionary, previously unknown to them. The words were to be usable in everyday language and then introduced into their own submissions for the newspaper.

It was a stimulating, enjoyable and enlightening experience. The ‘competition element’ achieved good results as all were enthusiastic to gain the upper hand. Everyone learned something, the quality of writing improved as the research paid off, and the words they sourced increased the potency and value of their writing.

At grammar school we were taught comprehension. Over and over again we had to summarise lessons, subjects, books, or an incident, into a short paragraph, a skill which is of paramount importance to journalists’ and especially for Letter Writing. This vital lesson is largely defunct in the educational system today and it is a great shame these principles are not being upheld or given the importance they deserve within our learning institutions.

A carefully crafted letter, showing respect for the written word, relevance of content, and a keenness to alert the recipient of the author’s talents, can transform one’s life and circumstance for ever. Of all the subjects in the education system surely ‘word usage’ is one of the most important? Many young people, including my daughter, do not know how to address an envelope, let alone where to put the stamp when they leave school or university. Of course the advent of email has played its part in this treachery.

Words and their meaning are abused daily through lack of orthography, the use of abbreviation and deviation.

Take ‘sophisticated’ (from sophistry meaning; specious and fallacious reasoning). Ask most young people what this word means and they offer the opposite of its true meaning. This has happened because of lack of reference in use to its true meaning.  Today it is common to consider it means good taste, a measure of refinement, subtlety and wisdom, rather than its earlier meaning of crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity, adulterated, falsified.

The internet has done much to deter and suppress good writing styles. In spite of it being a vital research and information platform if we are not careful, it will decimate the beauty of our language and erode the imaginations and writing skills of younger generations further. There is too much information, being digested too swiftly.  Social media is a prime culprit, fostering lack of respect for our language and obstructing the desire to seek out better alternatives. Having penned one of the first internet directories full of websites across the National Curriculum for young people, whilst being told that the internet would never take off,  I am as guilty as we all are of using this medium.

So, back to the word game.

The KCWToday team kindly have shared some words with me that they find interesting to share with you. Some of these have been written by the interns, one of whom hitherto had not used a dictionary. After being charged with finding some words for this article he commented; “I found some really cool words in there. Thank you.”

Lexicographer – A writer of dictionaries, ‘a harmless drudge’ as Samuel Johnson defined it.

Sussurus – whispering, rustling, murmur.

Egregious – eminent, remarkable, extraordinary

Stentorian – very loud in voice

Urbane – courteous in charm and manner

Heterodoxy – deviation from accepted or orthodox standards

Ossify – to convert into bones

Malapert – saucy or impudent

Spancel – a length of rope for hobbling an animal especially horse or cow

Gibbous – convex at both edges as of the moon when half full

Ersatz – made in imitation of some natural or genuine product; artificial

Plangent – having a loud deep sound; resonant and mournful in sound

Iconoclast – a person who attacks established or traditional concepts, principles, laws; breaks images and stained glass

Intemperate – consuming alcoholic drink habitually or to excess; immoderate, unbridled, violent behavious

Nebulous – lacking shape or form or content, vague or amorphous

Maleficient – causing or capable of producing evil or mischief; harmful or baleful

Intermerate – rare not defiled; pure, unsullied

Prolepsis – a rhetorical device by which objections and answered in advance

Portent – a sign or indication of a future event especially a momentous or calamitous one

Glabrous – without hair, bald

Malversation – professional or public misconduct


Here are a couple more with the examples used in sentences;

Crepuscular – Relating to twilight.

It was one of those cool, crepuscular days that could have belonged to any of at least three Scottish seasons, a sky like slate roofing and a wind that Rebus’s father would have called ‘snell’.- Ian Rankin. The Falls

Ineffable – Too great to be expressed in words.

Religion brings to man an inner strength, spiritual light, and ineffable peace. Alexis Carrel. Nobel Prize-winning surgeon.

Factotum – From Latin Facire = do and Totum = all. A good word for a generalist who may be asked to do anything. “Every KCW Today intern needs to be a factotum”

There is not enough room here to insert the origins of the words listed above and their forms and uses; nouns, verbs, adjectives etc or, in what year they were created, the different dictionary sources and alternative meanings. This also makes for fascinating reading and is another good reason why dictionaries should be kept close at hand at all times. Try Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (shortened version edited by Jack Lynch) by your side. Life will never be dull again.

We need to rally round, with collective responsibility to maintain and uphold one of the greatest inventions of all times ‘the written word’. Good quality journalism, lessons on the importance and use of words in different mediums in the education system, and print have never been more important.

Of course Shakespeare’s use of words had the most descriptive powers and a dip into any of his great works will yield a great shot of inspiration too. He really knew the Art of raising the bar with words.

Anyone for the high jump?

Please do send in your own words and KCW Today will attempt to use them in our future issues. THANK YOU 

LONG LIVE PRINT – (Subscribe with KCW Today)

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