My Love Affair with Words

The other night I was fixing dinner while my seven-year-old daughter was in the family room working on her very first short story. “Momma, how do you spell persevere?” she asked. As I replied, I took in the really sweet scene and thought to myself “there’s another leaf that’s going to stick on my word associations tree.”

Because that’s how my brain likes to work — by creating associations to words. Like with smells or sights, words themselves conjure memories and the older I get, the more associations I have – or in my mental image, leaves on my word tree.

For example, enthusiasm – from en-Theos or with God – reminds me of my beloved father who was a Presbyterian pastor. There isn’t a word that describes his remarkable energy better and I can’t hear it without thinking of him.

Or plethora which is my best friend’s favorite word. And since we’ve been friends since we were seven-years-old, there are a plethora of memories that come to mind when I hear that word, especially of high school when life was abundant in opportunity, boys, and screw ups to learn from.

Then there’s the phrase “pit stop” that with the hard “t” and “p” sounds reminds me of my sister. She used the phrase in a letter she sent to the whole family when we were in 20’s when she was mad at my brother for not breaking off a relationship with one of her friends properly. In trying to smear him for using others as a “pit stop from himself,” she instead attached that phrase in my mind to my image of her, along with “misdirection” for her ability to distract from the work she needs to do.

Plenitude is a recent favorite that comes in accordance with meditation which almost always leaves me with the reminder that at that moment I have enough.

When I first started going to meditation class ten years ago as I was healing from my divorce, there was a bowl of inspirational words on a table to pick from. I kept getting “transformation” and I was so completely tired of it I just want to scream, “Haven’t I changed enough for a life time? Leave me the f*@! alone.” And fortunately when I vented that thought, I was usually down on my knees in prayer pose and from there could bend to accept more renewal.

Because renewal has a friendly association for me. That means my cup is being refilled and hopefully my energy too. I’m friends with renewal in a way that I will never be with transformation.

Calibrating sentences” is one of my recent favorites that comes from Jack Canfora on a podcast that he did with Troy about the creative process. Isn’t that a beautiful way to measure the weight and balance the best utterances come with? And given that it comes from such a gifted writer, it gives me hope that if I work at it too, I might be able to calibrate a few great sentences in my lifetime.

Fledgling gained new attachment for me when I had kids. Never before had I been able to appreciate the delicate nature of holding newness in my arms combined with the potent desire to provide a platform strong enough to see them take flight.

Bivouac reminds me of my climbing friend, Phil, who is always joking that it’s French for mistake. It’s not, it means a temporary camp without cover according to Oxford languages, but since Phil bivouacked high on Mt. Everest during the climb when he became the first American to climb the North Side of Everest, it’s a well-earned attachment.

Say the word “authentic” and I think of my meditation teacher and friend, Deirdre. It’s the attribute that makes it so she can somehow manage to lead a yoga class and yell, without missing a beat, “Move on, Motherf*$)#^!” out the door at someone she thinks is casing her car.

The word I associate with me three-year-old son is observer. The other day I turned on some kitchen lights I don’t usually use for a house guest. When my son saw them, he took me by hand to show me where other lights of that same type were in the house. He sees the quarter moon and says, “The moon is missing a piece.” And most recently, in one of his most profound observations, we were watching a storm out the window and he said to his sister, “Sshh, I can’t see.

There’s “constellation” and it reminds me of my brother and one of his favorite songs by the same name by Jack Johnson and Eddie Vedder. It also is attached because my brother is always seeing the patterns in things.

Love has so many associations that it has become cluttered. But dedication, commitment, intimacy, fun, play, expansiveness, laughter, loyalty, selflessness and desire each conjure a particular person or memory in my life so that all together, they jumble into a delicious mix of how love feels to me.

I can’t hear the word “condensation” without thinking of my very verbal daughter. As a four-year-old, someone was telling her he had water forming on the inside of his camper van on cold nights and she responded, “You mean condensation?”

My love of words has infected me so much that for almost any person in my life, I have a word association for them. It makes me wonder that if, by the time I’m really old, if I’m lucky enough that my body perseveres that long, every time I construct a sentence, there will be a memory and person hanging off of it.

Maybe that will be my tree of life and I’ll be able to enjoy each delightful word with the memory that comes with it.

I’d love for you to check out and follow my latest project – The Heart of the Matter. It’s a blog of fantastic writers and thinkers delving into what matters in life (and also what doesn’t). You can find it at https://sharingtheheartofthematter.com

For most posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com 

And if you want to follow me, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)


46 thoughts on “My Love Affair with Words

  1. Love this…and it’s so “YOU”. The best sort of word association EVER. Love the little stories wrapped up in each word…xoxox! 😘

  2. Ahh, this may be one of my favorite posts ever! I, too, am a lover of words, both etymology and personal meaning. It tickles me to see how your life experiences has given new meaning to both common and less common words. And “calibrating sentences” is amazing! 😙👌

    1. Isn’t “calibrating sentences” great?? I’m so glad to have found another word lover – it’s so fun to know I’m not alone in my quirkiness, Erin!! 🙂

  3. Okay, it’s official – I want to be Wynne when I grow up! This has to be my new favorite Wynne post. And I’ve had many favorites. 😃 I LOVE the part about your dad (never knew that’s what enthusiasm meant!). But then… I love ALL of it. And the way you ended it, by saying you may be stringing sentences together with many word pictures? Simply and delightfully wonderful! 🤍

    1. You have such a gift for saying the most dear things, Kendra! Isn’t that interesting about enthusiasm? And I remember that I had just learned it when my dad died and that timing made it perfect to be part of his eulogy. Oh, those beautiful things that all tie together… 🙂

      Thank you, my friend!!

    1. Oh, what an interesting question! I do have negative word associations – mendacity, infidelity, narcissism come to mind off the top of my head. Suffering also but like love, it’s filled with so many words that make it up.

      I would say this about how I’ve learned to manage these for myself. Someone has to really get under my skin to earn one of these. The more that I trust and love people, the more I can see their actions expansively. But that’s a work in progress to find meaning and expansiveness instead of blame and defensiveness.

      Especially about myself.

      What about you? Do you have an answer?

      1. Narcissism is a trigger for me as well. However, my reaction is to pay attention to when we use words carelessly, like calling someone “crazy” when they simply piss us off. I should pay more attention to the kinds of positive associations you write about.

      2. Ah, yes, what a good point about crazy. That’s how I feel about the word “weird.” It’s almost always used unfairly…

  4. Amidst all of the wonder of the words in your blog, I am struck yet again by Mr. D and his fascinating powers of sensory perception: Shh I can’t see, and now, there’s a piece of the moon missing. A young mystic, he is—or maybe more of an old soul.

    1. What an interesting thought, Julia. A young mystic or an old soul? Hmm, any chance he could and always will be both? Sending love and light, my friend!

    1. That is so awesome – in the wording and the concept! I hope the alliance holds up and the flow of pencils to all that need it is restored! 🙂 Thanks SS & GP!

  5. I love this post, Wynne! I love when I occasionally have to look up a word when I’m reading, like you just did with “plenitude”. I had never heard that word before. I also love words along with learning new ones.

  6. I thought everyone did this with words? No? There is truly an associative nature when we find a word to spark a memory of place or person. While off the direct point of this thoughtful and fun post Wynne- I am touched by this concept in relation to older individuals. Using those key words to spark memories for them especially in situations of mild cognitive decline. A simple thing that family or caregivers can do that may make elders feel still connected to themselves and those who are important to them.

    1. It’s a good question, Deb – does everyone do this? We need a survey.

      You make such an interesting point about key words and cognitive decline. I’ve heard that music can spark connection – wouldn’t it be great if knowing someone’s “words” did too?

      1. Yes, I’ve heard the music connection as well. I was just thinking in terms of myself and a few of the words that I associate so closely with my kids. If there comes a time that I need nudging I think I’m going to suggest they pull out those words and keep them ready.

  7. I share your love of words Wynne (and that calibrate sentences thing Jack said), but it shows itself very differently. I tend to get irritated by overused and misused words, phrases I don’t care for, and buzz words used by people I don’t like. 😂 Your positive, personal word association is something I should open myself up to and see what happens.

    1. Ah yes, there are those words too, aren’t there? I find though that those don’t stick with me as long though – an irritating buzz word stays around for a season but rarely sticks longer for me.

      As I say that, I think of George W saying, “misunderestimate” so I guess sometimes they stick… 🙂

    1. Unlike this reply, which is drenched in “it,” for some reason! But what a great topic, too! I think a lot of writers have this relationship with language and are surprised to find many others don’t! I feel bad for them!

      1. Ah, well now we’re talking about a serious deceit of mine: visualization. I couldn’t tell you because I can’t picture it myself!

  8. Love this post!
    I like, “Maybe that will be my tree of life and I’ll be able to enjoy each delightful word with the memory that comes with it.” Beautifully said, Wynne.

  9. Loved this, bought back memories from school where me and a friend would count the number of times the teacher used her favourite word… but for the life of me can’t remember it now.

  10. Interesting read. I too love words and have made associations that are sometimes curious. When I was a teen I fell in love with the word “profound.” I used it a lot and shoehorned it into conversations whenever possible. Then my youth pastor picked it up and even though we haven’t spoken in 20+ years – I think of him whenever I use it.

    1. Oh, I love that you “passed on” your word association and it made a connection. Another layer of the word tree. Thanks for reading and sharing that, Justin!

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Wynne! We all have heard that there are memories attached to songs or smells…why not memories conjured by interesting words? <3 <3 <3 Love the anecdotes about your children! I guess you can't take the mother or the teacher out of the old girl!

  12. Wow, talk about a wild ride of word associations! I absolutely love the way your brain works and the way you connect words to memories and people in your life. I can’t even imagine how many leaves must be on your word tree by now! Personally, I associate the word ‘scribble’ with my terrible handwriting, which always manages to turn even the most heartfelt personal notes into a chaotic mess. But hey, at least I have a wild imagination to go along with it! Keep on creating those word associations and never lose that unique perspective.

  13. I love this. I wrote about transformation or surviving life transitions, so I was especially interested in this part: I’m friends with renewal in a way that I will never be with transformation.

    Would love to unpack this more with you!

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