Education Grammar Memoir Writing Life

How I Fell in Love with Words

photo by Matthijs Rouw @

For a period of years, I exchanged letters with a boy. He was smart, and I felt flattered by his long-distance attention. I loved the way his words looked on the page, and after devouring the content of his letters, I would stare at his penmanship. His handwriting was distinctive; long, thin strokes in the “T’s” and “L’s”; his vowels undersized, tiny and tight. Very controlled. My “P’s” and “L’s” wanted to loop. My vowels were large and open, like my heart.

During this period, I focused on composing the best letters I could. I explained – dissected – deconstructed and reconstructed the world for him in an attempt to get him to see things through my eyes. I showed him the beauty of the cigarette butt left on the filthy street corner, and wondered about the woman with the orange-red lipstick who had held it in her mouth. I addressed my envelopes, licked my stamps, sent my poetry and prose. And since there was neither instant messaging nor Skype nor Facebook nor email in the 1980s, I had to wait  . . . and wait. . . and wait for the postal carrier to (finally) bring me a long anticipated envelope. And always his responses were wonderful: filled with answers and more questions, more observations which led to more thinking, reflecting, writing.

Through our correspondence, I fell in love. With words. I learned how, in English, multi-syllabic words have a way of softening the impact of language, how they can show compassion, tenderness and tranquility. Conversely, I learned that single-syllable words could show rigidity, honesty, toughness, relentlessness. I saw how words could invoke anger, sadness, lust, and joy. As an adult, when speaking, I sometimes feel like I did not say quite the right thing. But when writing, I have time to be careful, to ponder, to find a new way to say something old. I can craft something magical.

I have always said that the best writing is born in obsession, rooted in a specific place.

My favorite word is “apricot” because it invokes a specific sense of smell, of taste and touch – but for me, it also reminds me of a particular morning in a particular place when the sun rose and made the world glow. It is a juicy word. A sweet word. A golden word scented with summer. I use the word “apricot” to show my students how one image can hold a lot of weight.

Some day I will thank that boy who made me want to revise, who made me want to give him only my best, most delicious words, my most ferocious images. Wherever he is, I hope he is still writing, too.

If you are so inclined, I would love to know if you have a favorite/least favorite word, what it is, and what it evokes for you.

25 thoughts on “How I Fell in Love with Words

  1. I likey and so relate! My essays were amazing in college! Revision after revision: it had to be perfect and create a visual, a smell, like I was talking to you! When I talk, it is not as thought evoking as when I have time to ponder what I say! I am hands down a more detailed writer than speaker!

  2. You know I share your love for words too! I miss the lost art of letter writing. It’s sad to know that if I didn’t teach my kids, they wouldn’t even know how to address a letter because they don’t even teach it in school anymore! I write any chance I get! I don’t let the fact that I suck at spelling and have a hard time with grammar stop me either. It actually makes me work harder to be better at it! I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So I say to anyone who has certain disabilities (like in spelling and grammar) never let it keep you from your dreams. That’s the great thing about computer writing (spell check) 🙂 I don’t have to spend hours erasing and rewriting!

  3. Favorite word!? That indeed is a difficult one. There are so many words. To boil it down to just one – alas I am certain I can not. I can not, I can not, I can not. If only I were the little engine that could, for then I would have one single perfect word as my favorite!

    Nice piece, Renee. Always enjoy.

  4. Lovely post that shows your love of words. I had a pen pal & like you had to wait for the postman to bring his replies. Thinking about ‘apricot’ – it is a round word that is soft – yes- a good word!

  5. Great post Renee. I completely fell for apricot. I don’t believe I have a favorite word but the word “moist” is one of my least favorite. I think it has to be vocalized to have the full effect.

    I had a funny experience the other day while texting a friend. I was writing something about swimming, dinner and s’mores when my iphone, thinking it knew better then me, switched s’mores to “snorts.” It made me laugh for hours seeing that sent text with the word “snorts.” I think “snorts” is one of the funniest words out there.

  6. Hey Renee…Look at all of us who love the art of language! Two quick things: 1. My favorite word is “zephyr.” Like your apricot, “zephyr” makes me relax, close my eyes and I can usually feel the breeze across my face! 2. If you like words, you must have the game Bananagrams. It is a quick, always-changing word game that you can play with the whole family. It is like Tetris with words – wildly addicting! Always nice to read your thoughts!

    1. In elementary school, a bunch of us girls used to play “Isis,” (do anyone remember that show) and we would dramatically pull our necklaces out of our shirts and say: “Oh Zephyr winds/Which blow on high/Lift me now, so I might fly.” In the Saturday morning show (which came on after Shazzam by the way), Isis always rose straight up and ultimately flew into the clouds to catch some bad guy. Cool word choice. Plus, you were my 900th comment!

  7. Letter writing. I love it and miss the longer letters to and from friends. I remember pouring over my letters to friends and boyfriends and making sure my words were poetic and in a nice order, something my mind struggles with….order:)

    A favorite word…hmmm. I like “wanes.” It sounded a graceful way to become smaller or less as a young teen. It was the first word I learned that was not in my daily vocab. It propelled me into my thesuarus and dictionary looking for other words to use in poems and stories. I immediately stuck it in a poem I was writing. I still have that poem, it’s terribly tragic, haha:) The word “wanes” also began my dream to own an Oxford dictionary set.

  8. Renee,
    Fantastic as always. I have three words that instantly come to mind as favorites: “plethora” – because I like the intent it requires to ennunciate it properly, thereby hinting at its complexity; “conundrum” – because to say it sounds like a problem indeed, and lastly, “loathe” – the roughness in the final sound hangs on the tongue like a bitter pill.

  9. Personally, I loathe the plethora of conundrums in my life…so I’ll leave those words for Marjorie. 😀

    Great piece, Renee. Hmm…favorite word…I like the feeling ones…”Love,” “Joy,” “Ecstasy”: (Actually I prefer “Ecstatic”); “Cozy”; even “Doldrums” and “Melancholy.” 🙂

  10. The best word ever FUCK. I can’t believe no one said this yet. Useful as a noun, verb, adjective. Feels good to say and do. Expresses both positive and/or negative. A universal word.

    1. Jeff, the f-word is overused. It scares off those in the debate, unless you are in the right audience. I like the British “bugger.” It is sound more forceful and natural, like a bug, and can be used in a variety of positions.

  11. Technology is great as it benefits us in so many ways. Like anything else, it does have its downside. Seeing handwritten words on the page reveal so much about a person. Unfortunately, they seem to be going the way of the 8 track and the princess phone. I can remember the days of trying to choose the best words I could to evoke the proper response, without coming across as trying too hard or sounding like someone I’m not. With this age of instant access, instant gratification and shorthand messaging, we are losing out on the joy that words can bring. As far as a favorite word, I guess it all depends on the context. As the father of 3 young boys, right now that word happens to be, “Daddy”.

  12. I fell in love with words by reading. It was my great escape in my early years, and still is today when I can find the time. I realize that written words and spoken words share little in common these days. That saddens me; I try to get the most out of my words only to often find them lost on many. Like explaining a joke to someone, it rather loses its meaning if you have to.

    I would say my favorite word is “Masticate.” As I have a twisted sense of humor, and I like to play on the people that don’t know the language well, I will often walk into a room an announce: “I just masticated till my jaw hurt,” then leave the room to let them think what they will. They think I’m weird. I think they should read more.

    Thanks for the great post.

    1. “Masticate” is a great word. In high school, during Health Awareness Week – we had to make posters for all different types of Health issues. Someone got oral hygiene and made posters that said, “After you masticate, don’t forget to brush.” No one knew what they meant, but the teachers didn’t like the sound of it and took them all down. Meanwhile, we all looked up the “nasty sounding word” and guess what, “masticate” was on my 11th grade SAT test! I’ll NEVER forget it!

      1. Masticate is so close to masterbate that I find it helpful for transformative sexual eduation, for real. ;] Think, for example, how many divorces could be saved if this issue were adequatley handled……….>O

  13. Renee, I wish those letters would have been ours. I am jealous. Was it Todd? Tom? Sam? Jimmy? Now I need you to teach me the art form. My favorite phrases are: “Please give me a massage” [strictly athletic] or “listen to your Papi, ” or “I love you, I have you by the hand. I won’t let go, even if my tendons rip out!”, “Hold my hand,” and “Watch out, we’re are crossing this crazy street!” [Stole that won from Kevin Coster, before he got involved with BP]. Hope BP is going well for him now. I prefer the Coast Guard rescue team.

    My single favorite word is “gratitude.”

    Abrazos y besos. Adam

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