Obligation 3: Use The Language

I’m a writer. It goes without saying that I love words. In fact, I’m a bit of a word geek. On a tough writing day, when the words simply won’t come, I lose time flipping through my dog-eared copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. It’s been with me since my freshman year of college. I scroll through my Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and learn about the etymology of words. Sometimes one silly-sounding word can spark inspiration and save me from the dreaded writer’s block. At the very least, I’ve taken the opportunity to build up my vocabulary. My husband is not a writer, but he loves words too. He is the king of ridiculous puns. You know the type: the ones that produce groans from adults and eye rolls from children.

He has instituted a game our family often plays when we’re on a boring road trip or waiting in an insufferably long line. You’ve probably got some version of it in your household, too. We call it “A Book Never Written.” We try to outdo each other by pairing a fictitious book title with a descriptive author name. When it’s your turn you say something along the lines of, “A book never written. My Life of Crime, by Rob Berry.”  (That was my son’s.) At first, we take turns. As the game gets going, my husband and son simply shout out their book titles and author names while I sit silently, searching my brain for something clever to add. I’m not very good at this game.


Another word game our family enjoys is that timeless classic, Scrabble®. My husband and I used to bribe our son to play it with us, well, most board games actually. He prefers computer games. But that’s fodder for a different post. Back to Scrabble. My son entered his inappropriate potty talk phase, which I’m eagerly awaiting the end of, and nothing was more hilarious to him than watching me react to the word “fart”. Like the manipulative mother I am, I have found a way to turn this disgusting stage in my son’s development to my own advantage. We now play a version of the game I call “Inappropriate Scrabble”. I know the title needs some work. Feel free to send me your suggestions.

The rules of the game are quite similar to the original Scrabble, with a few exceptions. You get points for inappropriate words if they are listed in the dictionary. (No swear words or offensive names are ever allowed.) You get points for normal words, but lose a bit of respect from your fellow players. If you use a polite version of an inappropriate word, you get double points. Playing the word “fart”, for example, will earn you 7 points. Play the word “flatulence” though, and you earn 15 points times 2. And that’s not even accounting for specially marked spaces. Instead of “puke”, why not try “vomitus” or “retch”? Playing the polite word “toilet” will earn you a grand total of 18 points, but with a little extra effort and different letters, “commode” will earn you 28 points.

If our children are going to torment us with potty talk anyway, let’s take the opportunity to build up their vocabularies.

(This post was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s lecture at The Reading Agency.)