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Words are wild animals
Fowl language is part of wrangling birds
As a writer, you might think of yourself as the Keeper of the Word Drawer. Presiding over a collection of brass letters, inspect each with a loupe, and then plunk them into place on the page. This is a fantasy.
You’re more like the Keeper of the Word Zoo, because words are wild animals. They’re not perfect, shiny, or solid. Words are shifting, slippery, stinky, and sublime.
There are Janus words, paradox parrots that squawk both a meaning and its opposite. Should you sanction such terminology or apply sanctions against their use? In England, you’d table the discussion to suss it out. In America, tabling brings the discussion to a close.
There are weasel words, rhetorical vagaries, used by certain people (“it is said”), to imply authority where there is none (“most experts agree”), or to discredit a point (“allegedly”).
There are linguistic chameleons, who swap their semantic skins over time. “Perusing” a list of these words might sound light and breezy, but the word means to inspect thoroughly. “Literally” used to mean one thing, but it changed, literally, overnight.
Dear zookeeper, you must not be squeamish or insistent about words. Words are not holy. Words are not evil. They are merely critters, some wild, some tame, most absolutely made up. Your job is to handle them with confidence, draw their blood, and occasionally shine a flashlight down their throat. Like wild animals, the nature of words is to shift, change, adapt, and evolve.
Words really do be like that sometimes.
Some Word People tag these beasts and follow their movements through history across various biomes (etymologists). Others analyze their anatomy, categorizing their spines, gait, and sounds (linguists). Most of us manage a local menagerie. We trot out a truffle pig, on a leash, to snort out some meaning to share with the world (content designers, writers, your job title doesn’t matter).
Words are wild animals: alive and weird and wacky and diverse. Some have teeth and claws. Occasionally you’ll need to wear gloves. You will occasionally step in scat.
Before you take aim at words with your shotgun of style, remember: inside each beast is a beating heart pulsing out the rhythm of meaning. This is why all words are worthy of love.
A soft blanket in the grass for pals and practitioners.
Control, influence, and concern. These are your currency. These are your limits.
It’s not unusual to feel pulled one-thousand different directions as a content designer. Lauren Pope shares how to avoid the everything, everywhere all at once of it all in this sensible missive.