The Jedi Word (or This Is Not The Word You Are Looking For)
My kids were just shy of middle school when they first came to me with writing assignments. I had unwittingly set myself up as the “English, History, and Geography” parent (as opposed to my “Expert on Every Natural Science that Ever Existed but I Can’t Spell Banana” wife.)
My son and daughter had the usual trouble with homophones, and my son was deeply addicted to commas; still, they both read a lot and writing wasn’t too difficult for them. We had one consistent issue—and I blame this on reading high level books and only using context clues to define unfamiliar words. The “old” term is malapropism, defined as a word that isn’t the word you meant to use, although it sounds similar.
I don’t recall the exact error, but I remember showing it to my daughter and saying, “This isn’t the word you want. You’re looking for x instead.” Sudden inspiration struck and I waved my hand in front of her face, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi. “This is not the word you were looking for.”
“Oh,” she said, “it’s a Jedi word!”
It’s much easier to write “Jedi Word” in the margins than “malapropism” or “look this up”. It had the added benefit of making the mistake into a game, instead of a frustration for the student.
Cin Norris and I were talking about vocabulary. I’ve noticed that younger professional writers – as in women and men in their twenties and early thirties – often wrote a “fancy” word that wasn’t quite right for the context of a sentence. I hypothesized that it was because internet and social media language was barren. And, I wondered how many people did most of their reading on the internet – and not in books.
“My daughter and I call those Jedi words,” Cin said. And, this column emerged from her.
*** I’d love to hear from you – either in response to these hypotheses or whatever is moving your pen these days.
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