By Lynn Moncus: Quay County Sun Coumnist
As most of you have gathered through the years, playing with words is one of my favorite pastimes. Whether reading them, writing them, or working puzzles in which they appear, words have fascinated me probably because Mother spent much time trying to teach them to me in those canyons. Because we were alone so often, she began talking and reading to me from the beginning and later admitted that she was rather pleased when I could repeat what I was hearing and could then begin to put words together so we could have some sort of conversation.
She had me saying the alphabet long before I knew what it was all about and then began teaching me to trace the simple words she would write on paper. Once I learned a few of those, she would place a magazine in front of me and tell me to underline those words she had taught me. Naturally, that led to the desire to learn more words in order to be able to find something I could recognize on any written page that was lying around. She would usually read the story in which I had underlined familiar words, making me even more curious about the surrounding words. By saying them, tracing them, underlining them, and following her finger as she read to me, I managed to learn new words every day and could hardly wait until the next day so we could play those games again.
She and Grandmother both worked crossword puzzles and allowed me to watch until I could form the letters and fill in the blanks as they would spell the words. We spent many pleasant hours just pouring over words while I was trying to learn a little about them. Because we had dictionaries at both houses, I was privileged to turn the pages while they were looking for particular words and had the pleasure of learning so very much without even knowing I was learning. What a painless way to learn a little about our language!
Working word puzzles has stayed with me throughout the years, and I still begin most days by working them in the daily papers. They give me something pleasant to think about, keep my mind semi-active, allow me to refer to the dictionary on occasion, and cause me to become a bit frustrated when I have to wait until the next day to find an answer. This week, for instance, I was looking for a word that means “a group of cats” and was ready to kick all cats in the neighborhood before the next paper arrived to give me that answer.
The word of which I had never heard was clowder, and it sent me into a fit of going through the various dictionaries on this corner. I finally found it in The Oxford English Dictionary and would have thrown that dictionary across the room had I been able to lift it. Upon reading about the word, I saw that it was obsolete and had probably been replaced by clutter, but that word had nothing of consequence to do with cats and sent me into a fit against the puzzle maker for causing me to jump through hoops in order to find a word that is no longer in use and that probably shouldn’t have been used to begin with.
I’m sure Mother would have been pleased to see me flinging dictionaries about and to know that she planted a permanent seed when she started those word games so long ago. Had I been in those canyons, I would have run outside to shout at top voice in order to cause enough echoes to disturb anyone within hearing distance. You may think I wasted a lot of time on a single word, but I met the challenge one more time and had great fun tracking it down so the mind could rest until the next time some strange word appears. I just hope I have enough dictionaries!