I think it was my Mom who helped me fall in love with words and language.
As a parent, and as a teacher, you too should encourage a love affair with words by your kids.
It’s easier than you think, it only requires that you first fall in love and then you find ways to hook them too.
Let’s start by unpacking the start of this blog post from a true word nerd’s perspective.
“Fall in love” – Why does English use this metaphor for love? This is a question that you can ask to anyone and have a great discussion. Yes, you can ask a kindergartener about what it means to “fall in love – why do we say ‘fall’?” Kindergarteners will say the darndestthings.
It’s arguably a high charged statement that love is something that happens to us. In other cultures, the language suggests that love is a decision. Or it’s a commitment forced on you by circumstance. But in our language and culture, the idea is built-in that love is something that happens to us and we have little agency around it. Want to hear a lot about this? Listen to Mandy’s incredibly popular TED talk in which she starts with: “Today I want to talk about how we talk about love. And specifically, I want to talk about what’s wrong with how we talk about love.”
While we are talking about words, let me make another point about my love affair with them. It is not love from afar. I’m hands on and curious about my love. It’s how I’m wired. It’s a daily and hourly thing that I think about the words and language that we use.
BTW, this interest in how things were said drives my wife nuts but that’s a topic for another post. Maybe a topic for a TED talk. A TED talk? What is a TED talk? We often use the word “TED” but are we curious enough about what it means? This is always true for me for acronyms. Here’s a few:
TED = Technology, Education, Design
Laser = Light Amplification* by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. (*Confession: I thought it was “light synchronization” right up to the moment when I checked it for this
Radar = RAdio Detection aND Ranging.
HTTP = HyperText Transfer Protocol
HTTPS = HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure
Which brings me back to the word “morph”. I worked in computer graphics and animation in the late 80s and early 90s and at that time, one of the really cool new special effects was the morphological change from one image to another by small gradual steps using computer animation techniques which to the human eye appear smooth and magical. While there were a lot of early amazing computer graphics on this, the two that come to mind for me are the Michael Jackson music video “Black on White” and some scenes from Terminator 2 in which the terminators morphed in previously unseen ways.
People and the media talked about these graphical effects a lot. They were mesmerizing. And they needed a word. “Morphological 3D Transformation” was a mouthful so pretty soon, the word “morph” entered common usage. And “morph” morphed from a specific technical effect and became a metaphor for any change. So many things can morph. The language can morph. When food rots people say it morphs. Businesses that pivot from one plan to another are said to have morphed. And acorns don’t just grow into trees, they now morph into them.
Is this worth knowing? I think the next time one of your students uses the word morph, you might be able to hook them on language by asking: “Did you know that when I was a kid, the word ‘morph’ had not been born yet?” And then try telling the story. And showing the videos. (If they show any interest in the area, take them to the oral history of that graphical effect).
When did “bad” become “good”? And how? Maybe the next time you hear a student say that something is bad, you can ask him to explain if “bad” means “bad” or does “bad” mean”good”? And why? The fact is, I don’t know. But I hear people talking about how great things are everyday by saying: “That’s bad, so bad!”
I suppose I could google it.
“Google it?” (This article writes itself.) “Google it” was derived from the common use of the Google search engine in this century. It’s now a common verb and not even capitalized. It’s entered the language just like frig, hoover, kleenex, aspirin, chapstick, and other proper names of brands that became synonymous with their product. These are called “genericized trademarks” or “proprietary eponyms”.
The word Google itself has a weird backstory. It was a deliberate misspelling of the word “Googol” which is a number: one with a hundred zeros. BTW, the Google company started with a particularly odd name that which I don’t even want to try and explain. Would you believe “backrub”? Google it.
Now, back to the email that I read this morning which started me on this post. Jennifer Cook-DeRose wrote a blog post about words and especially about “equifinality”. While it had a technical definition about decomposition, its common usage (and admittedly, it’s not that common) can be summarized as “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”.
Or there are different ways of getting to the same result. She used it in an article about homeschooling and degrees. Thanks Jennifer.