I love words. (There’s your obvious statement for the day.) I love expressing thoughts with them, but I also just love how they sound. And their specificity. And how we have lots of words that mean the same thing, or almost the same thing. Words that mean endless things and words that mean one particular super-specialized thing. And how I get to use words all day long.
I also love how different human endeavors have different specific lexicons. That there are specific skateboarding words, specific needlepoint words, specific salmon biology words. And so on and so on until I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness.
So here’s a lexicon word nerd project I got so excited about last week that I had ALL of my classes (except my teen novelists) try it. It builds off of the idea of using exciting lexicons to spur writing that I talked about last year. It indulges word nerds, and respects the expertise of people who would rather be doing any number of other things besides writing. It’s a fun way to play with words — and an experiment in metaphor too.
Think of something you know a lot about or like a lot — horses, robotics, soccer, physics, your dad, The War of the Roses, cheese-making, Billie Eilish, worms.
Make a list of all the special words you use to talk about that subject — a lexicon for that subject. For instance, if you like to cook, your lexicon could include words like mix, souffle, spatula, muffin, whisk, broil, baking soda, skillet, banana, turmeric etc. Don’t use words like “great” or “disgusting.” Look for special words (like souffle) or words you use in a special way (like mix).
If you want more inspiration, check out Fast Break, by Edward Hirsch. Look for the basketball words. Notice it’s all one big long sentence.
Write a one-sentence poem about your subject, mining lots of words from your word list. Challenge yourself to write a long sentence. Use words like and/so/then/because to add more parts to your sentence. You might, like Edward Hirsch, try giving your poem a form (like his couplets) to help its one long sentence have a trellis.
Take a break. Have a snack or something.
Then write a new poem about something completely different, using words from your word list. Be creative -- there are no wrong answers here. For instance, if my list was of cooking words and I wanted to write about my baby nephew1, I might say:
I whisk him around the house, the scrumptious little muffin. His cheeks puff up like a souffle when he grins. He chews on everything, even the skillet. He's delicious and I, his aunt, am bananas for him.
This one’s for you, Ronan.