Words by Mama Bear

Words by Mama Bear

This weekend on the blog we welcome back guest writer Erene Schwarz, also known as my Mama Bear. Something we both have in common is a great love and appreciation for words, so when she said she'd written a short essay on the topic I was thrilled when she said we could feature it here. Astrid | Founder

Definition plural noun: words

a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

I love definitions! They seem to add a richness to a forgotten part of our language which in today’s world seems to be based on perhaps the 1000 most frequently used words, or the text of a WhatsApp message which seeks to use letters in sequence and not in sense, to convey a message: you often need the skills of a code breaker to figure out what the other person is trying to convey to you! I wonder how many can remember the Readers Digest of some years ago? It was a monthly paper back magazine in an A5 size which contained articles ranging from “Climbing Mount Everest “ to “how coconuts float from island to island’, to give you an idea of the diversity of the magazine.

A favourite was “Laughter the Best Medicine” and throughout the magazine there would be jokes or funny quips at the bottom of the page. But the highlight for me was the 2nd or 4th page, which included a list of Vocabulary and the meanings of about 20 new words. You could go through this list, and then later on there was a page where you could test your memory on the new words you had read. Words such as:

  • Pernicious - having a harmful effect;
  • Superfluous - unnecessary, especially through being more than enough. 
Or put in the form below and you had to choose the correct meaning:
  • Sinistral - A: from the south. B: underground. C: left-handed;
  • Strewn - A:  above you. B: untidily scattered about. C: something you cook;
  • Cistern - A:  a pot to cook in; B: cavity in the tooth. C: tank for storing water;*

Today we do not use many of the words that enriched our English language. Spelling bees, probably more popular in America than in South Africa, were competitions to spell difficult words that were used in conversations that, looking at old films today in which the characters have long conversations using these words, the use of these words seem frivolous, but they are actually rich in meaning and were intended to broaden the mind and language one used.

One of my aunts was an avid reader of Dorothy Leigh Sayers, an English crime novelist, playwright, translator and critic. Sayers died in 1957 and had published over 74 works of literature in different fields. One of her books is “Strong Poison” - which introduces Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (you can watch the movie on YouTube) why I mention it is because this is exactly what I am writing about - the excellent use of English and words of an era past - when we though about what we said and how we said it, in good use of language.

There is also a fun side to this movie, using a ‘play on words’ which you may just enjoy.

For today I leave you with this: be emphatic, assertive, confident and self-confident about using new words in your conversations.

*Answer to above : C,B,C

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