use your words

Sometimes when I struggle to come up with a word, I substitute “thing” or some other placeholder, knowing that I’m probably going to get called on it by my life partner.  Not long ago, after I did so, she simply said, “Use your words.”

As someone who has done a significant amount of writing over the decades, I should be able to come up with some words.  In fact, that same life partner has been proofreading most of my work for years, so she is used to me droning on and on in print as well as in person.  She knows that I can string a few words together if I try.

And she also knows that, in contrast, I can stay in my head too much and be quiet for an extended period of time.  Another recent comment from her, after a such a lull:  “You’re a man of few words.”

A long time ago, when Sue and I started playing Scrabble together, I was pretty sure I’d be able to dominate the competition.  I mean, I did well on the dreaded weekly vocabulary tests that Mr. Gits dreamt up for sophomore English.  I probably tried to take it easy on her at first, so I wasn’t concerned when she won most of the time.  But it never changed; she beat me consistently.  In fact, the only way I could figure out how not to lose was to quit playing with her.

(In what seems to be an unfortunate replay, it’s happening all over again with Qwirkle, our current favorite game.  Other than both being played with tiles, they’re quite different.  Maybe it’s the fact that, just like in Scrabble, I’m always looking for the heroic, big score, while she just makes the most of the tiles she draws.  I suppose that there’s a larger life lesson in that for me too.)

I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but a couple of years ago I started doing the “mini” ones that are in the New York Times on weekdays.  Five-by-five and not too hard, they were just about my speed, so I could solve them quickly.  (One clue a couple of weeks ago:  “You can mince them and eat them.”  Yes, “words.”)

In a somewhat misguided move, I recently started doing the bigger crosswords, or at least trying to do them.  I can’t believe how bad I am at it.  I know that part of it is the need to learn the tricks and the lingo and the sometimes cockeyed constructs, but even given all of that, I should be able to do better.  At least I think I should.

But enough about fun and games.

No matter our comfort level with language, whether we favor five-dollar words or simple ones, we have choices in how we use them.  And how we choose defines who we are.

We can use words to build up or to tear down.  To inspire or to demoralize.  To build a reservoir of trust or to drain it away.  To teach respect or to teach disrespect.  To inform or to deceive.  To preach love or to preach hate.

Use your words.  Wisely and well.

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