Monday, November 17, 2014

Are You a Wordsmith? by Marion Ekholm


I happen to enjoy words and would just as soon read a dictionary or thesaurus as I would a novel. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I do find words that are new to me fascinating. I also have trouble with words that I can’t remember. I’m not referring to those times when I have a senior moment (although those times are becoming more frequent). I mean when my girlfriend and I want to go to a particular restaurant and I have to describe it – “You know where they have lovely clothes and unusual gifts.” And after I mention the address, the rocking chairs on the porch and the last time we were there she says, “Cracker Barrel?” That word forever eludes me. 


Part of my wordsmith library.
 
I’ve been asking people if they have particular words that give them problems. My friend in work said “Orange.” Anytime she has to spell that word, she has a hard time. Okay, that may be a stretch. After all, how often do you have to write the word, and where’s the problem if you misspell it on a grocery list?

Unless you’re dealing with my father. He had a fit every time my mother misspelled margarine or mayonnaise on the shopping lists she gave him. They’d argue over her spelling whenever he went to the store for her because she always managed to misspell at least one word. He never understood why she couldn’t learn the proper way to spell. (I sometime wondered if she refused to learn them on principle.) He read two newspapers, front to back, every day. Whenever I asked him to spell something for me for one of my school projects, he always told me to look it up in the dictionary. After struggling with it for a while, he’d give in and spell the word for me. And he was always right!
My parents on their 25th Wedding Anniversary.
And speaking of dictionaries. In fifth grade, I had a reading teacher obsessed with having us open the dictionary to within pages of the word she gave us. Can you imagine? To this day, I can’t use a dictionary without remembering the hours we wasted on that project. 


If I have a problem with a particular word, I’ll spend a great deal of time on it, so I’ll remember it in the future. Restaurant once gave me a lot of difficulties. I missed kitchen in a 4th grade spelling bee never to forget it again. Now I struggle every time I write “every time.” Sounds like a simple word, but I cannot understand why anytime is one word but every time is two?

I asked some writers at Valley of the Sun if they have any particular words that give them trouble. One woman has problems with lie or lay. Which one should she use? Instead of trying to figure it out, she tells her characters to just get on the bed!

What about effect or affect? How about shine verses shone? The latter never sounds right.

One website I enjoy for words is http://www.merriam-webster.com/ There are quizzes and all types of fun games with words if you don’t mind the popups that distract on the sides.  There’s a section for commonly confused words that includes affect and effect. But I didn’t see orange anywhere.

Do you have a word or words that boggle your mind? If you can think of one, let me know.

33 comments:

  1. Your post made me smile, Marion! There are words that boggle my mind, but of course not one comes to mind right now. I do find online thesauruses handy when writing.

    I am curious why you have the Spanish/English dictionary prominently displayed in your wordsmith library. Was it for research for a book or do you speak Spanish?

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    1. I agree, Kate! Some of the simplest words trip me up. I could blame the fact that I'm dyslexic, but not even that excuses misspellings. Marion is right: The dictionary is a writer's best friend. Well, that...and a comfortable writing chair. LOL

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    2. Maybe Marion's Spanish-English dictionary is because she's in Arizona. I imagine it's very useful. Just guessing.

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    3. The dictionary may be our best friend, but I have to be careful with the spell check on computers. My typing may be fast but it's not always accurate. Using spell check--and quickly--has resulted in some awkward corrections!

      Good point about the dictionary, Muriel. Thank you!

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    4. What a surprise to have so many people pick out the Spanish dictionary. In An Act of Love, both Marley and Brant speak Spanish and the few times I included a Spanish word, I wanted to get it right. I don’t speak it even after struggling for a year with attempting to learn it in college. I keep the book handy for my characters. And Murial is right. In Arizona, Spanish is spoken so much I often feel I’m in a foreign country. I took French in high school and it kept tripping me up.

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  2. I gave up on using affect and effect--unless I can't find a way out of it--because no matter how many times I've looked them up, I'm confused by them. I enjoyed the post, Marion!

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    1. Oh, absolutely, Liz! Further v farther, that v which...whether or not to use a period after the v. in versus makes me feel a little like Vinnie Barbarino: "I'm so confuuuused!" LOL

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    2. I have a problem with versus and verses. Which is a comparison and which is in a poem?

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  3. I have a problem with its/it's. Not that I don't know which is used for which situation, but my fingers won't fall into line. I have to check every ms. for it's/its errors. And, Marion, on a tangent, I love seeing what people have on their bookshelves. I could see unopened mail on a table, lying open with a sign that says "Read me," and I would never go near that letter. However, I find bookshelves hard to resist!

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    1. I have to go through all my manuscripts and find your and you're. Even though I know it thoroughly, it's always a problem for me. With contractions like it's and you're, I always have to say it is and you are mentally to avoid mistakes.

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  4. Man, that would be open mail. Sheesh!

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    1. It IS frustrating when your brain says one thing, and your fingers say another! I have that problem when typing FROM. If I had a dollar for every time I typed FORM, instead, I could probably retire! LOL

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    2. Why does that happen? I have to retype for after typing fro all the time.

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  5. Like your friend lie and lay give me trouble. And here in my area we say drug a lot for dragged. As in the dog drug the bone across the carpet, lol

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    1. I find some words never sound right even if they happen to be correct.

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  6. lie/lay, further/farther, girl friend/girlfriend...I could go on! Love the hint about the website. I need games to keep me mentally sharp!

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    1. They have a fun test of 10 questions to see how familiar you are with the meaning of words. I always seem to get 3 wrong.

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  7. Our evening news uses the word "busted" all the time instead of burst. "The police busted into the crack house," instead of burst. I, too, am a victim of lie and lay, so I try to write around it - cowardly, I know, but effective. And the English language has so many odd exceptions to rules and weird, unexplained, differences. Like Marion's every time and anytime. Why is it a restaurant, but the man who runs it is a restaurateur (dropping the 'n'? It's a mysterious language - appropriate to writing about love.

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    1. On TV I often see alright written when I was always told it should be two words - all right. Then again, I don’t see why alright isn’t right when always doesn’t have to be separated into all ways. Maybe your reference to restaurateur could be the reason why I had such problems with restaurant. Why is the b dropped from numbers when you write numerous? Words are such fun!

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  8. I think I have a lot of words that the proper usage trips me up. Someone mentioned that and which, always makes me have to pause. I loved the Reader's Digest word game they had every month. I quit taking the magazine and miss it. I don't do crossword puzzles, but people tell me they are a good way to keep up on proper spelling. I have the Gregg Manual of Style, but sometimes feel I lose my train of thought if I stop to look something up. Good post Marion.

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    1. I rarely use which and try to limit that. I have never been able to do crosswords with any success, but I understand if you do them regularly, you become familiar with words that are used all the time. I have known people who do them in ink!

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  9. Love the pic of your parents and the post! My dad made me go through a book called Word Power Made Easy one summer in high school. Boy did that strengthen my spelling, but there are definitely words that will forever stump me. The same ones over and over. But when it comes to typing, it's usually an issue of my fingers being stubborn as opposed to not knowing how to spell the word. One thing is different for sure these days, we didn't have internet dictionaries to turn to when I was in school!

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    1. That probably helped you a great deal. I have several copies of Word Power Made Easy (one shown in my library picture above) and I pick one up anytime I see one in a garage sale. It has wonderful ways of making the words stick with you. I particularly like how it has sections dealing with the same subject – oculist, ocular, optometrist. It often has the root word or Latin word as well as several ways to make the word memorable.

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  10. I'm so happy to find that other people have just the same word confusions as me

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    1. We're always learning. I'm particularly fond of homonyms. The English language has so many. Now there's some confusion for you.

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  11. I get confused with the "i before e" -- lovely photo of your parents.

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    1. Thank you. That day was truly special with all the neighbors joining in the celebration. And I have problems with ie or ei. Receive and niece. It all has to do with where you put the c. Notice how it’s ei without the c in neighbor.

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  12. I think you're either a good or bad speller from birth. My dh is the latter and he's otherwise brilliant. He's always asking me how to spell a word. And how about lit/lighted? Or have you ever stared at the word "the" until it made no sense at all? I am addicted to crossword puzzles!

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    1. I agree about being either good or bad at spelling from birth. I had a friend in grammar school who never had a problem and decided writing each spelling word five times was a waste of her time. She gave her homework back to the teacher with ditto marks under the words. The teacher wasn't happy and my friend was required to write them all out like the rest of us.

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  13. I was always in the spelling contests when I was younger, so I learned to spell words and the difference between words like lie and lay, past and passed, etc. Who and whom still give me fright. What boggles my mind is typing the wrong word. I invariably will type hugh when I mean huge. At the end of a manuscript, I search for the word hugh and have spell check change it to huge.

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    1. Thank goodness for that find and replace on our computers. Past and passed is always a problem for me, too.

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  14. Marion, what a great post! I love words, too. Funny that you mention restaurant--I misspelled that one in a spelling bee once (took second place because of it.) It still gives me anxiety to this day. What a great pic of your parents--I think you look like your dad!!

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  15. I remember the first time I saw exacerbate in text. Unfortunately, I was in front of a classroom teaching. I figured it out from context clues. The next year, when I taught the class, the word tripped me up again. It took me three years of teaching that word before I could remember what it means.

    Then, same class, I was readying aloud and came to the word cicada. Again, never had seen it in text and said Kick a Duh. Almost immediately realized my error LOL.

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