Amy French

A set of 1,000 English vocabulary cards sits on my office shelf. They were printed in the 1950s. The words on the cards are beautiful—the font, the design of the box, the words themselves.

“A convenient method for developing quickly and easily your knowledge of those choice English words vital for advancement in your career,” the box declares.

Yet as I thumb through the cards, by the time I hit only card No. 3 I am on a word I don’t know.

Taken aback I move past prevaricator. I make it to No. 8 before I again am required to look at the definition on the back. Diurnal: “of a day, daily recurrence.”

For someone who loves words and the challenge of a new one, it is a bit disheartening to so quickly run up against these unknowns. Yet it is also fun.

More than once I have been asked to remove a word from a story that is, perhaps, too much for the circumstance. By no means is my vocabulary extensive, although it is a goal I’d love to achieve.

I would take the Edgar Allan Poe prowess, minus the alcohol and the 13-year-old cousin of a wife.

Poe has always been a favorite. Yes, I like the creepy, but I had to literally creep through his stories to slowly digest the words I was only just tasting for the first time. His vocabulary was massive and he was known for making up words of his own.

Poe was thought to have used words not only based on the meaning but also based on the sound of them.

I used to read Poe aloud to my oldest while he was still quite young, stopping every sentence or two to explain what I could and be sure he wasn’t lost along the way. And while it may make for slow going at times in a story, the reward is, well, going slowly through a story.

I love words. And I might be inclined to argue they can love you back.

Words wield power.

Ask anyone who has been demeaned by words without thought.

Ask someone who has been told they are loved.

Ask those who have been canceled for their own words or those spoken of them.

The precision of the perfect word can conjure a visual.

The words can declare intent and even illicit action.

Sometimes the action is the creative thought inspired by them. Words arranged on a page can more than broaden a mind, they can take it somewhere else. People have been infuriated, prompted to tears, left laughing. It amazes me to think of letters printed on a page, consumed by another and then the prompt to act.

Words can change a point of view.

It is the case in this business I have chosen.

When people read the words, the response is often everything—where the power lies.

It is why I take it seriously and it is why it is critical to be as fair, even-handed and clear as possible.

The words can affect another’s life.

For years I have felt the need to defend when people make off-handed, derogatory remarks about “the news media.” It’s one of those love-hate things. I bow up and feel defensive as my experience is here and I try desperately to do my job well. When it is done poorly I am deflated for I cannot justify or excuse.

Poorly chosen words can mar the best of intentions.

Wisely chosen words can repair, build, heal.

It is again one of the reasons I write.

The speaking filter I have is far less effective than the editorial one which monitors my writing. Much more thought is required before the words escape onto the page. Even then they often must be wrangled back in, settled, before they are allowed back out.

It is easy to let words get away from you particularly when they fall off the lips and hit the ground running. Again, it is why rounding them up on the page helps keep them in bounds.

So today I gather my words this one more time. I always want to make them count and hope to inspire others to do the same.

Choose words wisely. Use them to encourage and uplift and foster better understanding.

Wield the power with care so people know that you do.

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