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June 29, 2009
The Word Nerd
When I was a kid, I would read the daily newspaper and look for errors; typos, misspelled words, grammatically incorrect sentences, etc. (Yeah, I know…why do you think my kids call me the Word Nerd?) I would count the errors in a particular story and challenge my mother (a word nerd in her own right) to find them.

I still notice every error in every publication I read. In everyday speech, I hear the mispronounced words, the incorrect sentence structure, the lack of enunciation, and the use of erroneous words that are only in the dictionary because so many people use them. (irregardless, anyone?) I laugh when a newscaster or a politician loses the feed from a teleprompter and proves the inability to speak in a polished professional manner without its benefit.

Words define us. Words allow us to express our thoughts, opinions, expertise, and ignorance. Words allow business to be transacted, and doors to be slammed shut in our faces. Communications is one of the largest industries in the world. Think about all the ways you communicate – phone, fax, e-mail, texting, instant messaging, face-to-face: They all require words, and the correct combination of words, to be effective.

I’ve sat in conferences with my kids’ teachers and been appalled by their inability to grasp the English language. I’ve received e-mails and news bulletins from these same teachers that cause me to question their qualifications to teach my children. All the things I looked for in those newspapers from 30 years ago are evident in these communications, and it frightens me.

My kids now correct each other if they hear a word mispronounced or misused. Sometimes it’s hard to determine if that’s a good or a bad thing, but they are listening for it, and they know when something isn’t conveyed correctly. I purposely use words around the house I know the kids have never heard before. When they ask me what a word means, I refer them to Mr. Webster’s dictionary sitting on our bookshelf, and we read through the definition together. My middle son even signed up to receive the “word of the day” on his e-mail so he can expand his vocabulary. Yes, that makes this word nerd proud.

As you can probably imagine, I love owning and editing my own newsletter, NoteWorthy. I go through every article submitted and look for all the things I looked for 30 years ago. I love writing the columns, my editorial, and corresponding with my readers. I also love writing this blog. Every now and then I’ll read through my old blogs and catch a typo and it burns me up, which shows I’m just as hard on myself as I am everyone else.

My oldest child will enter 7th grade in the fall, and has a post-high school reading level. My younger children, entering 6th and 4th grades respectively, each have high school reading levels. I like to think my obsession with words and my insistence they use them properly has contributed to their success in the classroom. After all, the only thing separating us from the animals is…well, words.

Whether we care to admit it or not, people judge us by our words and our actions. Since so much of our communications these days are done from miles away, most people can’t see our actions. This leaves our words to say what we want to say, show how educated (or uneducated) we are, and influence who we need to influence. So ask yourself: Are your words helping or hurting on your pathway to success?

Make it a great day.

Clint (the Word Nerd)

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