Exploring new words

What do you do when you come across a new word?  Looking up new and unfamiliar words is a great habit to get into.  That includes checking the spelling or meaning of words you don’t normally use and are less than totally comfortable with, and exploring a word that you’ve never encountered before.

I bumped into the word “maven” twice last week, once in a post at Bad Language and the other a comment from or link to The Copywriting Maven’s blog.  It’s not a word I’d come across before and twice in seven days is enough to make me curious.

I’d start by looking up the word on-line - I normally use Webster’s but it’s been playing up the last couple of days.  There are plenty of others to choose from including Chambers, Merriam-Webster, and the Oxford dictionaries.  Find the one you like the best, bookmark it, then get into the habit of using it.

Back to my example - we can see how the meaning of ‘maven’ starts to unfold from the various dictionary definitions:

“one who is experienced or knowledgeable”, “an expert or connoisseur” “an expert or pundit”.

I also see from this that it’s a US colloquialism, which might explain why I’ve not heard it before.  (I’m also wondering if it’s a particular favourite in copywriting and advertising circles?)

You get an even fuller picture though by plugging it into the on-line Visual Thesaurus - the word maven fans out to show you the connections, links and branches… You can see what this looks like here:

Or try it for yourself - scroll down the ‘Confident Writing’ screen and you’ll see a Visual Thesaurus box on the left hand side.  Just type in the word maven and then hit the red button ‘look it up’.  It will take you to the Visual Thesaurus home page, then into the thesaurus itself.  (Be patient, it takes a moment or two.   Also keep an eye out in case your machine is blocking pop-ups.)

From here we have a picture of the connections, a wider set of meanings (“someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field”) and some other fab words to choose from…  hotshot, superstar, virtuoso, wizard…

And the more you explore a word, the more you dig around it, the more you understand its connections, where it’s come from, and where it’s going, the more confident you will feel in using it.  The more you will enjoy having words at your fingertips.  Enjoy becoming a confident writer - or maybe even a writing hotshot.  A virtuoso.  A wizard.  A maven…

Joanna Paterson is a writer, photograph and journal coach who provides resources to help people tap into the rich seam of their natural creativity and express themselves with confidence. You can find more of her work at Nature’s Fire.

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One Response to “Exploring new words”

  1. On April 30, 2007 at 12:29 am Copywriting Maven responded with... #

    Thanks for the mention, Joanna! Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities having had the chance to visit many years ago. Maven is primarily a Yiddish word, one of many that has been incorporated into American English over the years and joins “nosh” (to snack or nibble) and “schmooze” (to make amiable small talk at a party or other function.) Like you, I love words and will grab them from wherever I can in order to craft just the right sentence. Thanks again, I enjoyed reading through your blog today.


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