A Way With Words

I am a word geek. I admit it. I like to study word origins. That’s why I wrote a book called The Words We Sing that came out last year. I took 50 words and phrases that we sing as lyrics at church but hardly use otherwise and defined them in today’s context. (You can order a copy here http://www.dennisnan.com/category_books.asp. )

I also shuffle words around on a page and call myself a writer. If that’s not a word geek I don’t know what is.

Implications, the nuances of what a word infers, is also a passion of mine. A few weeks back I mentioned that the words truth and honesty often are used synonymously but that I believe there is a world of difference between what they imply. Honesty may be what you may think is true but truth is true. Maybe a subtle difference to you, but it could be the difference in a person’s life…as it did mine.

Though no one actually ever told me I was stupid, I believed that I wasn’t very smart as a young student, mostly because I didn’t have the capacity to sit still and read or study for hours on end. (Today I would probably be diagnosed as ADD or ADHD and heavily medicated.) It didn’t show up so much in grammar school but when the schoolbooks got heavier and different kinds of study techniques were required, I began to have certain opinions about myself that were not healthy.

Algebra 1 was the first bane of my existence in 9th grade. Mr. Stephenson, who was brilliant in math, was not a very good teacher. At least, he couldn’t explain the concepts of algebra to me or to more than half of the class. I assumed from that experience that I wasn’t ever going to be good in math.

In the 10th grade I didn’t take math at all. Instead I took typing and did well enough at it but I missed making the Beta Club because I couldn’t get an A in typing for a semester grade. (The minimum requirement was to make all A’s one semester and maintain an A/B average from then on.) I couldn’t quite break through the 80 words-a-minute ceiling to qualify for the club. Oh well. Another honest misconception that was driving home a “truth” to me.

I was definitely hyperkinetic. I couldn’t sit for long periods of time. Still can’t. While my peers could go to the library and seemingly block out everything else and focus on a book or class notes, I was easily distracted by, well, almost everything. Cloistering myself didn’t work either. I could be totally alone and still get distracted. Of course, my grades, especially in college, indicated as much and I honestly began to believe I wasn’t very smart. So I told myself, what’s the use in trying? and a downward spiral began. As our friend Derric Johnson puts it, “My I-never-could became my I-could-never.” That can be a crippling conclusion.

What set me on a different course? I don’t know. I just began believing that I had some God-ordained purpose and resigned myself to the fact it might take a long time to find out what it is. I’m still exploring, by the way. Still trying to listen to the right Voice, still trying to keep failures in their contexts. I try to remember the words of Thomas Edison when asked about his many attempts and failures at inventing the light bulb. He answered, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


1 thought on “A Way With Words

  1. Kay Carpenter

    Nan, you have always been a musical genius with a magical voice! I have many happy memories of those children’s musicals our boys were in at Judson. Good times!


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