noun: wordsmith; plural noun: wordsmiths
1. a skilled user of words.Definition from Oxford Languages
The term wordsmith didn’t enter my vocabulary until my mid-30s, but let’s rewind. I didn’t know about a lot of things until that time in my life, but I’ll save that story for another day. But first, here’s some back story to my circuitous route of what it means to me to be wordsmith.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a popular question adults ask us from the time we can talk. The older we get we begin to discover what we want to become and it usually has nothing to do with what our parents want for us, even though they tell us to do what makes us happy. Come to think of it, I don’t recall my parents saying those words. EVER.
From first grade until the beginning of my junior year in high school, I had big plans. I wanted to make my parents proud, so they could brag to their friends and extended family about the career path I chose. Because one day, in my not so distant future, I was going to be a medical doctor…and jazz hands.
I sat with my parents watching every episode with Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser, MD. And before Patrick Dempsey’s role as Dr. Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, there was George Clooney as Dr. Ross in ER. Who didn’t want to work in the ER, fall in love with another doctor, and live happily after?
But at the beginning of my junior year in high school, I saw a PBS documentary on the making of a doctor and it shook me to my core. This film crew followed a small group of students through medical school, residency, and practice. I watched them juggle family and work. There were successes and failures at home and on the job. My preconceived notions were created through TV shows, I didn’t imagine it to be any different until that point.
You could say I romanticized the idea of being a doctor until that moment. I didn’t know what becoming an MD entailed. You know, the years of sacrifice, the schooling in the things I had no interest for and of course there was the blood. I was 16 and it was the first time since the first grade that I didn’t want to be a doctor. Cue the Price is Right sound of disappointment.
That same year, I discovered my interest in the arts. Who knew there was a world outside of becoming a medical doctor? It would take me a couple more decades to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I wanted to become was a wordsmith.
The term wordsmith is believed to have been first used sometime in the 1800’s. Online Etymology Dictionary states that it comes from an 1855-56 Detroit directory 1855-56 with a listing for a “Mrs. F. Wordsmith.” Though it could be a typographical error. Other dictionaries trace it back by separating them into two words. I’ll only expound on the latter. Smith is generally associated with a person that works with metal, but a second definition says it is a person who has a specified skill.
I thought it would have a deeper meaning, but it is just as the name implies. In the same way a blacksmith forms metal, a wordsmith does the same when in the act of creative writing. We shape sentences in such a way to convey an image, a thought or an idea. If you’re a writer of words, add this to your list of I ams. Go ahead and say this out loud, “I am a wordsmith.”
Now that you’ve said it, it’s time to be one. How many times have you looked for a better word .for something you wanted to say. I’ve only included two words in this post, but for good reason. Let’s take a look at the words very bad. In elementary we used the word very often, but somewhere along the line we were told to use other words to describe something that was very bad. So, we thumb through the dictionary and create lists of synonyms. Off the top of your head, what words come to mind when you’re thinking of a better word for bad? Create your own word list. This is a great exercise to see what you’ve got in your mental word bank.
Proofreading Services has a list of 128 words to use instead of “very” for your perusing pleasure.
Another common word used in our creative writings come when our characters are conversing. How did your character say it? Did he gasp, taunt, or whisper? I’ve included an infographic below compiled by The Puppet Show, so when you hit a said wall in your dialoging look to this.
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Life took me on a detour, but I’m glad I found the thing that makes me get out of bed in the morning. I hope this post gets your mind thinking about other sound-better-words. There’s a big world out there with thousands of words to use within the English language.
Look up a word and find the synonym. I dare you to go down that rabbit hole. Sign up with an on-line dictionary for your word of the day. Use it in a sentence or let it catapult you in the form of a writing prompt. You’ll emerge with words that you never knew existed and dominate your friends and family in Scrabble or whatever word game tickles your fancy. Now doesn’t that sound like a dollop of whip cream on top?
Happy wordsmithing my friends! Write on.