I’m starting a new blog category today. See it over there in the category list? That means I plan to return to this subject in the future. Words are serious stuff, folks. Well, to writers, and lawyers and anyone trying to split hairs in an argument, they are. I am a writer. I am like a perpetually lovesick single, always looking for just the right word and unhappy if I am stuck with the wrong word.
In fifth grade, a teacher asked a group of us how we thought a certain word we had never heard of was spelled (I do not remember the particular word, more’s the pity). The teacher’s eyes were alight and the half smile suggested whoever answered was going to get snapped up by a teacher-trap. Not surprisingly, no hands shot up. The teacher waited, growing more and more devilishly pleased.
I could guess, but I also saw the very bright gleam in the teacher’s eye. I raised my hand, gave my guess, patiently waited while the teacher practically danced as she declared I was WRONG! There was a slight flush of embarrassment that I couldn’t avoid feeling at the rush of all the other kid’s nervous laughter that the ordeal was over. But I was prepared for that. To my way of thinking, falling on my word skills sword was the fastest way to the prize: the definition and correct spelling of said word.
That incident has guided me with friends, family and students who misuse a word. There are a lot of words in the English language (and we borrow and invent more every week). No one knows them all. My goal here is not to be the mean judgmental Word Nanny, who takes delight in another’s lack. I just want…okay, I do want to be a Word Nanny. But picture Mary Poppins, making the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar.
In my defense, I was driven to this post (and new category) when I recently read, for the third time, Her knees crumbled…. There are many words that are synonyms and can be swapped out with no real impact in meaning. These two? Not so much.
- to break into small pieces; Aunt Annie crumbled the stale bread to make a crumb coating to make her world famous fried chicken.
- to fall to pieces over time; The wallboard was inferior quality and crumbled to dust in weeks under the weight of the paintings we hung.
- to fall into small fragments; The two year old cried when the potato chips she grabbed greedily crumbled and slipped through her fingers.
- to bend out of shape; The accident crumpled the left front half of the Porche.
- to collapse suddenly; The on-ramp railing crumpled under the truck that slid into it on the icy highway entrance.
- to wrinkle; Don’t crumple my suit jacket, or I’ll have to get it pressed again before the meeting.