Words, Glorious Words

I love words. Now, I realize this is not a particularly surprising thing for an English teacher to say; nonetheless it is true. I have always been a word person. Mom says that I skipped all the baby babble stuff and went straight to sentences. Lots and lots of sentences. Dad and his friends taught me the joy of bad puns and rapid wordplay. At the age of 4, I was a spontaneous- and insatiable- reader. So I have always been immersed in words, as well as fascinated by them. From a very young age, I loved peeking into the Shakespeare volumes of my Dad’s Great Books collection- not that I understood the plays, but I loved exploring the beautiful language.









I am especially enamored of the long words, obscure words, complicated words. Words that simply are not in common use. Teachers used to warn, “Don’t use those $10 words when a simple word will suffice.” I am more of the “Why use a $10 word when there is a perfectly good $1000 word lying around waiting to be used?” school of thought, myself.

People get used to me. (Or stop speaking to me, I suppose.) My mom and my sister both text me whenever they encounter an unfamiliar word. In my classroom days, my students used to pop into my room to shout a random word at me, just to see if I knew what it meant. I always did. The more industrious amongst them would scour the dictionary regularly, trying to trip me up. They never seemed to notice, or mind, that I had gotten them to read the dictionary. I once introduced a poem into my AP English Literature curriculum solely because it included the beautiful word “crepuscular” and – rarest of the rare- a word I did not yet know! (“Jinking”.)

Now, I know that my high school students (and even most of my colleagues) do not have the same vocabulary I do. And they do not all experience pure unadulterated joy when marveling in the boisterous, wondrous, nonsensical abundance that is the English language. However, I remain true to myself and my words, and I try to share the gift of language with my students. Not by giving them lengthy lists of words to struggle over, writing definitions until they are near catatonic. Certainly not by talking over their heads and using my words as weapons of elitism, superiority, smugness. I taught for 14 years in the sole high school in a high poverty rural community. I once tried to explain what “hover” meant to a struggling student and told her that it was what helicopters do, only to be flummoxed when she responded, “What’s a helicopter?” If I wanted to help students explore the beautiful world of words, I need to be sneaky, nay, insidious, about it. Instead of hammering my students with words, I surrounded them, cuddled them, layered them with words. I would speak with the words I love, then the words I thought they might know, and then the words that I was sure that they did. Definitions and examples and explanations were woven into, around, through, and under everything I said in class. What’s more, I let my students see my enjoyment of words. And it worked. With ever increasing frequency, year in and year out, I heard these miraculous words from my students: “Wait! Go back! What does that word mean?” They asked. They listened. They learned. In the process, their own vocabularies expanded and they used more and more interesting words, in more and more ways. We found ways to play with language. We wrote Elizabethan insults. We yelled Shakespeare. We rewrote passages of Huckleberry Finn in high diction; and passages of high poetic diction in contemporary slang. We explored the world of words together.








Another word that was unknown to me was sesquipedalian. My sister taught it to me in between fits of hysterics that I, so prone to using long words, did not know the very word that means “given to or characterized by the use of long words”. She had a good point, and it is a lovely word. I embrace my inner sesquipedalianism, and only hope that in some small way, I help my students find theirs.








13 thoughts on “Words, Glorious Words

  1. I’ve used skullduggery in class before, and my students look at me like, “What the heck did he just say???” I’ve got a few resourceful students who will look it up, then use it on their friends, and suddenly, catching like wildfire in the 8th grade! I love it!

    Thank you for these $1000 words, and this $1000 slice! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WOW! I will have to reread your post a few times to catch all the juicy, delicious words! Love this quote, ” Instead of hammering my students with words, I surrounded them, cuddled them, layered them with words.” You are growing word notice-ers!


  3. Cuddling your students with words — that image is so beautiful, and I wish I could write more, but I must hop on Google and find out what “jinking” is (and the poem that contains that word!). Thanks for a lovely post (and if you have not read Booked, put it on your list — Kwame Alexander’s main character hates/loves words — it’s an awesome read!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The poem is “Bat” by Eamon Grennan. I didn’t mean to leave everyone in the dark about that, but it was on my other computer and I could not remember the poet’s name when I was writing.


  4. This was a treat to read, and now I must look up “jinking”! I love using luxurious words with my second graders as well, and you have inspired me to be even more intentional about it. Welcome to slicing–I look forward to reading more from you in the future!


  5. thank you for jinking, and reminding me of crepuscular. And tintinabulation, that Edgar Allan Poe word from “The Bells.” I still remember my 11th grade English teacher reading that poem aloud and thinking, like a dumb 16-year-old, that she sounded so funny reading it, but never forgetting that word and how onomatopoetic it was — she taught us that word that day, too.


    1. “The Bells” was precisely where I learned “tintinnabulation” too. In my 9th grade speech class, we had to prepare a dramatic recitation of a poem, so I chose “The Bells” so I could say that lovely, lovely word. I’ll admit that my 14 year old self had to practice quite a bit to be able to pronounce it though!


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