It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that most of the word nerds I know aren’t writers, and most of the writers I know aren’t word nerds.
I belong to a forum, Bawdytalkers, the members of whom are self-defined word nerds. I think I can safely say that we are all articulate, and that our posts are expressive, eloquent and occasionally elegant. Several of us write, although I think I’m the most in-your-face writer on the board, and even those who don’t define themselves as writers have a definite way with the written word.
While I can cope with word nerds not automatically being writers, I have a harder time understanding how writers can not be word nerds. For a writer, words are a big chunk of the stock-in-trade, along with a mixed box of punctuation and an assorted jumbo pack of plot, character and setting (well, for fiction writers, anyway).
Similarly with poets – don’t you need a command of poetic language to do a good job of it? And by “poetic language” I don’t mean “thee” and “thou” and “dost” – I mean a stockpile of precise language, or words which have similar meanings and different sounds so you can use alliteration or allusion.
Yet most of the writers I know don’t seem to spend time working on their vocabularies. Okay, I don’t really spend time on it myself, but I’ve already got so much invested that it kinda grows all on its own. To paraphrase a character from “The Barefoot Contessa”, “To turn one hundred words into one hundred and ten words, this is work; to turn one hundred thousand words into one hundred and ten thousand words, this is inevitable.”
I do work on it a bit. I collect words, rather like Tiffany Aching in Terry Pratchett’s novel “The Wee Free Men”. I get A Word a Day in my email five days a week, and the same for the OED word of the day, which recently handed me “helluo librorum” (one who devours books) to go with “librocubicularist (one who reads books in bed). It also tossed me “wordmonger”. I wonder how it knew?
I don’t remember every word I learn the first time I learn it, and it’s a bit hard to work “limerance”, say, into daily conversation. I mean, you only know so many people who are romantically obsessed with another person and desirous of reciprocation, though not of a sexual relationship. I do forget words, but when I see them again, I recall them a little better. Sometimes I can suss them out from context, or from etymology; sometimes my ignorance just lurks in hiding among the swards and tintinnabulations, and nobody knows I can’t pull the definition for “rebarbative” (repellent, objectionable, irritating) out of my head at a moment’s notice.
It’s a delightful game, word-collecting. I wonder if there’s a name for it. Deltiologists collect postcards. Numismatists collect coins. Etymologists sort out the origins of words; we need a word for someone who collects words. It’s gotta be out there. Sooner or later, I’m going to find it.