#48: Words With Friends

Your correspondent, Christmas Day, 4th grade. Working on an early version of this Tinyletter.

Hi hi, friends, and warm cusp of the New Year greetings,

As a fun year-end thing, I thought I’d borrow a page from Laura Olin’s wonderful Awl newsletter Everything Changes and ask you to send me something: in this case, a favorite new word you learned in 2016, that is, one you find delightful and/or especially useful.

I intend this as a break from the words we all either learned or found ourselves using in 2016 more than we ever would have wished, such as ‘kleptocracy’ or ‘surreal.’ Oddly, when I was going back through the appointment book where I sometimes jot down good words, I found ’emoluments’ and ‘gold dust’ in the margins for a week last April. It seemed like some eerie Trumpian forecast until I remembered that that was the week I was reading Empty Mansions.

My own favorite new word learned this year was probably ‘swivet’, which I wrote about here and means a nervous flurry. Here’s how I learned it:

(Other past Black Cardigan letters covered stodgy & dreich, imbrue & blubber, and some Jane Austen favorites including nidgetty, amiable & perturbation.)

This week I’ve been reading Ian McGuire’s The North Water. I’m not too far in but so far I’ve picked up ‘chunter’ (“to grumble or grouse mildly or tediously”—McGuire uses it to describe a steam tug crossing the water) as well as been reminded how useful and invigorating ‘turd’ is as an insult.

To send me your words, either reply to this letter or email directly to blackcardiganedit at gmail dot com. What I’d like is your word, where you first read or heard it, and if you’d like me to use your first name and last initial for attribution.

I’ll collect ’em for the next letter—my hope is it’ll be like a handful of pretty new marbles for us all to share.

An Aside About Words

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot this year are the two pieces of advice Ole Golly gives Harriet in Harriet the Spy about how to be a writer. I wrote about it more fully here and referred to it a couple times since. I found it moving, galvanizing—and I’m grateful that this year, of all years, was the year I reread Louise Fitzhugh.

Anyway, condensed down, what I took from the advice is: the first thing you need to do, as a writer and a person, is tell the truth. That’s step one, and it’s become especially resonant to me in the past few months of false news, propaganda, and disingenuous corporate debate over “what is truth anyway?”

The second part of Ole Golly’s advice has to do with trying to take in the people around you with a tender curiosity that amounts, over time and practice, to something like love.

Our hero

One reason words are so important to me right now is they are tools for telling the truth. They are also tools for a more tender and active consideration of one’s fellows. We’re going to need them all.

(Related and recommended: This Masha Gessen interview about how language changed under Putin.)

Other Stuff

• For this week, I wrote an essay for The Awl called “The Real Carmen Freeze.” It’s about my first writing gig after college and the freedom I found writing under a pen name:

(The essay’s part of their year-end series, In My Other Life.)

• And a favorite from a couple years ago, “The Plath Resolution” — which is about Sylvia Plath and New Year’s resolutions. TIMELY!

More in a couple weeks.

Until then,
wishing you joy and determination in 2017,

p.s. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter and would like to, go here.

Carrie Frye
Black Cardigan Edit