Word Play

Searching for something quirky for your character? How about creating a new catch-phrase or word? It happens more often than we think.

I’ll bet you sometimes use a phrase that  you picked up from a television show, movie, or book somewhere along thecasablanca line. Gone With the Wind gave us “Fiddle-dee-dee” and “Tomorrow is another day.” Films like Taxi Driver, Casablanca, and Terminator II gave us “You talkin’ to me?”,Play it, Sam.” (often mis-quoted as ‘Play it again, Sam.’), “Round up the usual suspects.”, and “I’ll be back.” – all phrases that worked their way into popular conversation.

Over the last few decades, technology has given us new words. When someone tells us to call them on their cell, we know they are talking about a phone, and selfie and hashtag were among the words added to the dictionary just last year. These are words that were coined by someone or had different meanings originally, and later became accepted into the language by common usage.  Grandma would have scrunched up her nose and scratched her head.

making it up - butterfliesHave you ever made up a word, just for yourself? Kids do it all the time. Small children mispronounce things or call a common object something weird, but maybe they are onto something. For instance, doesn’t flutterby make more sense than butterfly? And remember those blue bottles of Evening in Paris that we bought at the dime store for Mom?  My brothers appropriately dubbed those as pew-fume.

Even Koko – the gorilla that learned sign language – made up a phrase, sort of. She saw a ring that one of making it up- KoKo1her handlers was wearing, sorted out the information, and logically called it a finger bracelet. Sure, she was associating words she already knew, but isn’t that how it starts?

One of the things about developing a hero/heroine is the challenge of creating a personality. Having him use a word or phrase often is a way of doing that. He/she could use a malapropism (using the wrong word when referring to something – like “I have a photogenic memory”), or make up his own word when he doesn’t don’t know the correct one. It doesn’t have to be an endearing quality either -you are allowed to make your hero imperfect, you know.

So have a little fun. Play with words. Make one up. Have your character develop one for something he or she is not familiar with, like Koko, or  mispronounce something and have it stick. It could give your character, well, character!

3 Responses

  1. Dot
    Dot August 25, 2015 at 9:04 am |

    “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” from Cook Hand Luke. This might have been around because “communication” was a buzzword back then. But the way is was used in the movie burned it in my memory.

  2. dotlatjohn
    dotlatjohn August 25, 2015 at 6:45 am |

    This post makes me smile as I think about some of the words we use in our family that came from little ones. We call toad frogs “Frod Togs” thanks to a little cousin’s mispronunciation and showers, “showees” because of a grandson who couldn’t pronounce the E sound for a season. (He does just fine now and shakes his head when he hears his grandpa and me continue the early version.) I’m going to give some thought to giving on of my characters a catch phrase in my Thomas story.

    1. Gayle
      Gayle August 25, 2015 at 6:54 am |

      Those are funny, DJ…thanks for sharing them! Anybody else got a couple?

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