Bookworms and bibliophiles love books. Foodies love food. Oenophiles love wine. I love words. One of my all-time favorite words is the French word retrouvaille.
According to our friends at Merriam-Webster, the definition of logophile is a lover of words.
Yep, that’s me.
I am also fond of the etymology or the origin of words. And I am fascinated by words that exist in one language, but not in others. As a 40-year-old that spends a bit too much time on Facebook, one of my favorite French words is “retrouvaille” or “a rediscovered friend.”
As a logophile, I confess that I am apt to get a bit snippy over how people use words. The connotation of a word is key! If someone (up there) is keeping a tally, the record certainly shows that I am willing to defend the virtue and intent of my word choice. Disagreements of course often stem from misunderstanding — if only everyone paid attention to word choice, perhaps we’d have world peace!
One of the reasons I love my husband so much is that he also loves words and meaning. Some couples argue about finances or the kids, whilst our most heated and memorable disagreements often center on words. Notable debates include the following words: silly, indigenous, and mammal. Not all on the same day or even the same week mind you, and yet these were serious disagreements involving dictionaries, raised voices, and internet research.
I am sure we will find more to discuss in the future. Particularly, as we continue our ventures as a tri-lingual family!
Before Google: Dictionaries & Writers Inc.
In 3rd grade, I earned the nickname “dictionary.” My claim to fame did not yet refer to a propensity to use and love large and or interesting words, but rather that I had mastered looking up and finding words. Our teacher kept a very large, ancient and leather bound dictionary on a podium off to one side of our classroom.
Looking up a word in the dictionary, required taking a step up on to the podium and flipping through the papery old pages. I loved the experience and the power of knowledge, literally at my fingertips. Standing on a podium is also pretty sweet at the age of 8. If my classmates needed a word looked up, either to verify the spelling or to learn the meaning, I could find it in that big old book in an instant.
A Crushed Spirit
By 6th grade, I owned a thesaurus. And in 7th grade, I learned to write essays. Essay writing thrilled me to no end. Literally! I kid you not! What fun to use the power and influence of words to argue, persuade, compare and contrast.
Sadly, in 7th grade, I also had my spirit crushed. My first essay came back with a large “D” written on the top. And, even when I thought I’d cut back on my creative wordings, my papers came back marked in red with “word choice” and “delete this” peppering the page. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me as a student of Honors English. I wrote and rewrote until I earned an A.
On a positive note, my English teacher also introduced me to a technical manual called Writers INC. As an excellent reference and a source of great diversion, Writers INC became my writing Bible. At the back of the book, the authors included a handful of useful appendixes. The most useful of these appendixes: a list of MLA proofreading marks. The most fun: a list of bad translations from foreign languages into English.
Lost In Translation
Every time I needed a good laugh, I could count on the page of translation mishaps, a list of 20 or so informational signs badly translated from various foreign languages, into English. Several of these mistaken translations in Writers Inc. can be found on this Wikipedia page that explains the origins of translation humor. The following sign, purportedly from a hotel in Moscow, is one of my all time favorites:
A sign in the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery states: “You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.”
Writers Inc helped me to keep my writing grammatically accurate until the book literally fell apart and disintegrated. Fortunately, this didn’t happen until it had been in use for a good 10 or 11 years, and by then I had an entirely new resource at my fingertips: Google. Today, Google remains a loyal ally. Each time Grammarly or Microsoft Office tries to tell me a word is not in their dictionary, my fingertips run to Google for validation. And, if I need a good laugh, searching “translation fails” on Google is certain to deliver!
Follow Your Passion
Frankly, most, if not all of my successes and achievements in life relate directly back to my ability to write and my passion for communicating through the written word. Surprisingly, a Scientific Writing course in the Biology Department at CU Boulder did more to hone and refine my writing skills than any other course. Unlike my middle school teacher, Professor Sally appreciated my love of words and creative word choices. She understood that effective technical and professional writing should also be interesting.
Under Sally’s tutelage, I learned to write compelling and fluid, yet technically accurate reports and documents. In the years since, I have penned service guides, technical manuals, fundraising plans, employee handbooks, newsletters, research papers, blog posts, articles, marketing copy, white papers, and grants.
Effective writing is like water
Prior to moving to France in 2013, I spent several years as the Executive Director (ED) of an international NGO. I wrote my way into that job by creating a 3-year financial development plan for their outgoing ED. In the span of a few months, I went from volunteer to ED. I wrote my way into my dream job.
My strongest recommendation for the job: my relationship to the written word and my ability to organize ideas persuasively. And yet, despite my writing successes over the years, from the honor of graduating Phi Beta Kappa to writing and winning a $100,000 grant, I didn’t ever consider myself a writer.
Good writing is like water. It can go just about anywhere it wants. (That may be a quote from Writers Inc, I don’t quite recall.) I write to communicate. I chose words that engage my senses and give me pleasure. When I write, my underlying goal is to ensure not only that what I write makes sense, but that my document flows and captivates.
I am a writer
I have a sensuous relationship to words. I love how certain words roll off my tongue. I hear words, phrases, and idioms in my head like music. And I know that words are the magic behind humor. But, until recently, I never considered my personal relationship to words to mean that I am in fact a writer. In my mind’s eye, I saw my love of words as cheap and silly. I shied away from sharing my personal musings and I simply wrote to communicate or achieve predetermined goals.
Why did I think this way?
I remember clearly the moment, sitting at my desk, with the late afternoon light shining in from behind me. I’d come to speak to my middle school English teacher to find out why exactly she’d marked my beautiful essay with big old ugly “D.” In a few words, she said, “your writing is too flowery.” That to be an effective writer, I must put down my thesaurus and stay focused on the assignment at hand.
She may have taught me to structure my writing effectively, but she also crushed my young love affair with words. Alison the “dictionary” and the budding logophile, came to an abrupt end sitting at a desk in an English class. The irony.
A Simple Epiphany
A few months ago, I started writing a piece about my father, Bill Border. I’d been inspired to write a biographical piece on him for an art magazine. When I asked my dad why he paints, he responded that since he had been a child, he had no choice, but to create. A few weeks later, I had my own epiphany when I realized that my path is through the written word. He paints. I write.
In April, I committed to a personal 30-minutes-a-day blog writing challenge and found that my biggest challenge is only writing for 30 minutes. Once I start writing, I have trouble stopping. And so now my mission is to embrace my logophilia and my writer’s spirit, by putting them to good use, both to make a living and to make the world a better place.
A Personal Retrouvaille: Me, Myself and I
Sometimes our best friend is not waiting to be found, but already inside. Rediscovering my love of writing and embracing my love of words is like rediscovering a best friend. Finding purpose at my keyboard is exhilarating. And helping others to find themselves through words and language is inspiring.
I have arrived. I am home. I might be feeling a bit precocious.
If you need to say something with words, but can’t find the right ones or are not sure what to say, ask me, I am at your service.