To Whom It May Concern

To the watchers of words and lovers of language at Websters, Oxford, etc.,

First of all, let me take a moment to reassure you that I am and always will be a true aficionado of adjectives, namer of nouns, and visionary of verbs. I use them often, love to listen to most of them, and rejoice when they are well-chosen and appropriate. I may cringe at some words that just plop into conversation like bird droppings onto my car, but it would be extreme for me to ask you to ban them outright.

There is one word, however, that I beg you to consider removing from the lexicon:  Boring

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/ Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I understand you are probably grabbing your top hats right now and tightening your tweeds in preparation to take your leave. After all, you are breeders of words and compilers of lexicographic lineage. To you the thought of reducing the size of your orthographic opus must cause great stress. This word, however, has become a scapegoat. It peppers family dinners and parental attempts to engage children of all ages. It mocks sweet, long, lazy summer days. It is the devil on the shoulder, whispering in the ear of children everywhere, “do nothing.”http://

greg westfall. / Foter / CC BY

Where is the simple serenity of lying under a tree, listening to the whisper of leaves in the breeze, or the adventure of peering into pools in hopes of finding an elusive minnow or scampering salamander? What happened to the joy of summiting sand dunes only to languidly leap back down? Refrigerators everywhere have reverted to their plain facades; the colored pencils, scissors, and glue lounging lazily in a long forgotten drawer.  Frisbees and bikes and basketballs lie buried in garages as the silent streets yearn for the noise of childhood. In the library, the listless books sit gathering dust while bored people everywhere sigh and fidget or bend their heads over tiny screens.

You may be gathering your papers, and I thank you for your time. I would just ask you to consider a consequence to the children of leaving this word in the lexicon. As many say, a bored person is a boring person. Would you relegate the youth of the nation to be thus named? If we were to remove the word altogether, they would have no way to describe these feelings of apathy, and may be inclined to move, to act, to think, to talk, and to create.

Also, as you may or may not know, many mothers reward boredom with chores.

You say you’re bored? Well, the house needs sweeping, the lawn needs mowing, the weeds need pulling, windows need washing…

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/ Foter / CC BY-NC

You see what I’m saying, don’t you? Do we really want to live in this Dickensonian world of working waifs, just because of one silly word?

So, I ask you, Dear Word Wardens, please, take a moment to straighten your spectacles, prime your pens, and remove this heinous word from the world. Parents everywhere will thank you.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No, Thank You.”If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?

For the Love of Language

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Dictionary, Shmictionary.”

I have always loved language. When I would go to the bathroom as a kid, I would grab the closest reading material to the toilet, usually a spray can of cleaning chemicals, and try to decipher the complex words. Directions that came in boxes of microwaves and video cameras were my chance to try to learn Spanish, German, French, or whatever language was written in the alphabet I know and love. All I had to do was compare sentences in those languages to the ones in English. I read before kindergarten, and haven’t stopped. I have even been known to thumb through the dictionary when bored.

So imagine the thrill of taking a linguistics course at my university, a course universally hated by the majority of the students, a course that involved anything from creating syntax trees to translating Klingon. My professor, who also loved language, seemed confused by the blank stares she received when she would ask the class a question. Students would complain after class. They were ill-prepared by an education system that has systematically removed the teaching of language structure. They were starting at ground zero. I was from another generation. I vividly remember parsing sentences in my fifth grade class. Mrs King was my teacher, and I, the normally shy student, would thrust my hand in the air, Hermione Granger style, in the hopes of being chosen to come to the board and show off my knowledge.

At some point during my time in this linguistics, I rediscovered my love of the dictionary. Sure, like every other college student, I had a copy of the dictionary sitting on my shelf at home, but it was a small, useful, paperback copy, dog-eared from my previous stint in college many years ago.

One of our assignments was to study etymology, or the origins of words. You probably won’t be surprised to know that I find this fascinating; history meets language. I became reacquainted with the big Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the one with the indents for the letters. (Also something I loved as a kid.) I found one at a garage sale and eagerly bought it, anxious to take it home and share my knowledge with my own children.

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I decided that I would take a word they were familiar with and show them the history. Now, I am a teacher. I know that I should run through a lesson before teaching the class, but in my excitement to share this knowledge with my kids, including two sons who were in 3rd and 4th grade, I skipped this step. Quickly running down a mental list of familiar objects, and with school being in session at the time, I concluded that pencil would be a great word to start with.

I asked them if they had ever wondered how things got their names. I grabbed a pencil and told them we were going to look it up in the dictionary. I explained that words change through time, but we can look back and see what changes they have undergone and where the word originated. So we looked.

Pencil… from Middle English pensel…from Middle French pinsel … from (assumed) vulgar Latin penicellus …from Latin penicillus … literal meaning little tail … from diminutive of … penis?

Etymology of pencil
Etymology of pencil

As you can see, the lesson quickly became an awkward lesson in how many things referred back to male genitalia. With a sheepish mom and a couple of giggling boys, the lesson quickly concluded, and I don’t think they have ever had the urge to look up the history of a word again. As for me, I endured months of jokes about pencils from my kids, whose idea of language, and of pencils, has forever been altered.