Letter #18: Hey, Look, the Dictionary is Rooting for You
Look it up :)
You never know how much gold is in those pages ‘til you read a dictionary cover-to-cover!
Dictionaries are teeming (I know, I know, that’s passive voice and I’m sorry) with all kinds of inspiring, uplifting words. I mean, they’re also teeming with every other kind of word, but I’m focusing on this specific kind here, so bear with me.
(Also, how many times can I cram “teeming” into this letter?)
And yes, I have read dictionaries cover-to-cover. I used to read them for fun as a middle school youngin’ and I’m thinking of picking the hobby back up. (Probably explains a lot.) If only I didn’t love novels and comics and other Substack newsletters so much! There’s just too much to read; it’s tragically beautiful.
But here, I have compiled a list of some inspiring words to move on to that next chapter of your story, to encourage your own growth, to let yourself just be.
I found so much meaning in these words when I saw them and figured I’d share in case they do the same for anyone out there across the great wide Interwebs.
A Note: The first four words came from The Intrepid Guide’s article I referenced in Letter #7. The words in there are just too perfect!
Noun: “Fear of crossing a threshold to begin a new chapter”
The word literally means “threshold anxiety,” from schwelle (“threshold”) and angst (“anxiety”). The unknown might look mighty scary, but who knows how much good that next chapter will hold? I’m working on trying to be excited for the unknown, so this really spoke to me.
Noun: “The pleasure of being able to say ‘to hell with it’”
Again, this spoke to me. As a chronic worrier, trying to develop the ability to not freak out about literally every possible thing is a hard goal to reach. So seeing a word describes this goal in one word feels really good!
Adjective: “The freedom of being alone and being able to do what you want”
Again, German words for the win. The German literally translates to “stormfree,” reminding me of the phrase I so commonly hear in music of girls being able to dance like no one was watching. I think about this word a lot when I’m writing at my desk, alone with my music and a half-typed screen.
Being able to write just for the sake of writing, just because I want to and am able to, does feel wonderfully freeing. I’m confident that not everything I write will pass under anybody else’s eyes, and that itself is freeing. I can, and should, write for me.
Yes, I write things that I’ll share with people here (and even that is HUGE progress for me because sharing my thoughts/words with people feels terrifying and big). A dear friend of mine is so much braver in this regard and I’m striving to channel that confidence and thick skin to be better about sharing my work.
I love what I share here. Maybe someday I’ll have enough courage to share more, like my short stories and novels with the world. (But finishing them is the first step there! 😊)
Adjective: “A desire to change and alter your life”
I’m so there. (Feelin’ a bit like Kim Possible there and diggin’ it.)
I imagine a lot of young people feel this way too, especially given a changing landscape given everything going on in the world right now. I lead a wonderful life, but what I’m hoping to do more of is just that: leading a wonderful life.
Over the last year, I’ve realized the importance of being the main character in your own story. (I have no idea what the exact wording of the original quote I saw was or who said it, so paraphrasing, sorry!)
I need to think and act like I am the protagonist of my life, because I am. To not live passively, to let others decide for me, to always ask permission, because doing that just results in doubting my own decisions. (And dealing with that will probably help me be braver at sharing my work!)
So, above all the other words I found inspiring on this list, this word is particularly poignant. So thank you to The Intrepid Guide for writing the article that led me to this word. And thank you to linguists, etymologists, writers, and all whose work goes into producing dictionaries! Dictionaries and thesauruses do so much for the noble cause of spreading thoughts and words and magic <3
5. Carpe diem
Noun: “Enjoy the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future”
Okay, this one is more of a phrase and I know it’s used so often, but it is actually inspirational. Well, seeing the definition is inspirational to me. I’ve heard the phrase so often that hearing or seeing the words makes me suppress an eye roll, but the meaning.
The meaning, fellow ghosts.
Merriam Webster defines it as “enjoy the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future (literally, ‘pluck the day’)” and relates how “[d]uring the 1st century BC, the Roman poet Horace wrote, ‘Seize the day; put no trust in the morrow.’”
I always hear “seize the day” but I prefer “pluck the day,” so it’s interesting how “seize” became the more common usage when “pluck” was apparently the more literal translation.
Verb: “to endow with life or renewed life” or “to enliven; brighten; sharpen”
Especially after the past few pandemic years, this is a verb I definitely need in my life. See also: Words like revitalize, enliven, and energize.
Fun Fact: The noun form of this word, vivification, can mean “the activity of giving vitality and vigour to something” (Vocabulary.com) or “[t]he process of converting protein from food into the living matter of the cells” (Dictionary.com).
Origin: French, Latin
Noun: “the action or process of developing and unfolding as if coming into flower: BLOSSOMING” or “the period or state of flowering”
Of all the words on this list, I’d say this one best exemplifies the title of this letter. This word is all about blossoming into your best self. Grow! Flourish! The metaphors are lovely and gardenia-scented!
Interestingly enough, this term actually has a lot of different meanings, including applications in chemistry and pathology.
Origin: Old Norse
Verb: “to kindle into flame, ardor, activity, etc.”
Anyone feel like they’ve fallen into a slump? This word is hear to help you light a fire under yourself! It literally refers to lighting a fire and causing something to start burning, so makes sense.
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Le Mote Juste
Honestly, why does German have such specific, poignant words? Given several of the earlier words on this list, it looks like you get to say exactly what you mean. As someone who loves the idea of finding just the perfect word, I’m very excited about that thought.
So for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the word (phrase?) for finding the perfect word: le mot juste. (Shoutout to my amazing aunt for figuring it out in five minutes flat while I spent two hours in vain!)
For laughs, this was my hot-cocoa-fueled, panicked, and undated journal entry about not finding the word. (Because of course I’d forget to write something so pertinent as the date; I’m thinking it was probably around July 19th when I was originally looking into this phrase.)
Entry: I literally can’t find the word I’m thinking of after an hour of searching. It means “to strive for the most accurate word for something.” It’s a noun and oh my gosh, I can’t find it. I’ve tried Googling and reverse dictionaries and I can’t think of the term or find it anywhere and I’m entirely sure it is a word. An obscure one, but still an existing one I have seen at some point in my life. Its definition is in the same vein as “pith” or “gist,” but it’s a specific noun that refers to getting to having the exact right word for something. Maybe it’s actually a verb? Like, the definition is “to find the perfect word?”
Merriam Webster couldn’t have said it better: “English was apparently unable to come up with its own mot juste to refer to a word or phrase that expresses exactly what the writer or speaker is trying to say and so borrowed the French term instead… As English speakers became more familiar with the term they increasingly gave it the English article ‘the’ instead of the French le.”
In case you’re interested, this was a neat related read found in my search for le mot juste.
An Aside: Also, completely miniscule detail here but I did look up “root” versus “route” to make sure my title was correct. And it is, so that’s cool!
According to Merriam-Webster, “root for” means “to express or show support for (a person, a team, etc.)” or “to hope for the success of (someone or something).” So if you were randomly wondering if it was “to root for the team” or to “route for the team,” it’s the former. Gotta love all those weird little idiosyncrasies of the English language!
And on that note, I’ll be on my way! Thanks for staying for some dictionary fangirling and (hopefully) some inspiration straight from the dictionary!
Best wishes and happy reading this week!
Works Cited (MLA 9th Edition):
“Carpe Diem - 'in Vino Veritas' and Other Latin Phrases to Live By.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/top-10-latin-words-to-live-by/carpe-diem.
“Efflorescence.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/efflorescence.
“Efflorescence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/efflorescence.
“Enkindle.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/enkindle-2021-12-26/.
The Intrepid Guide, Michele. “28 Beautiful Travel Words That Describe Wanderlust Perfectly.” The Intrepid Guide, The Intrepid Guide Ltd., 18 Dec. 2021, https://www.theintrepidguide.com/travel-words-that-describe-wanderlust-perfectly/.
“Mot juste.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mot%20juste.
“Root for.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/root%20for.
“Vivification.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/vivification.
“Vivification.” Vocabulary.com, Vocabulary. com, https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/vivification.
“Vivify.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vivify.
“Vivify.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/vivify.
You do have a way with words, and I am delighted you share these letters and your voice. Writing is like any art for the artist—a very personal expression of self. Take courage and know I root for you!