Words Matter | Dorothy Howe Kelley


In this age of texting, cringe-worthy slang and the elimination of cursive handwriting taught in schools, can we take a collective moment and mourn the passing of grammar, as we once knew it?

Admittedly, I was a word-thirsty kid.

My mother, home-raising nine children, was no slouch in the verbiage category. Her own vocabulary set the bar unusually high and she clearly hoped to instill her love of words in each of us.

I imagine she grew weary of the parade of daily questions from so many sources. When pressed for the definition of one of her more uncommon words of choice, her reply was simply "Look it up."

This was pre-Google -- in fact it was pre-internet. The now antiquated dictionary was the resource of necessity back then.

A funny thing happened when I got that dog-eared book in my hand: my curiosity kept me hooked. I found words strangely absorbing as a child, and perusing the dictionary became a quiet hobby. There was something about the exceptional ones that lit up my internal linguistic switch. Some people remember a well-told joke, for me it was a well-placed word.

My infatuation with vocabulary grew along with me.

When I eventually had children, I reveled like all parents at the adorable "pasghetti"-like baby talk. I was in no rush to make my daughters into mini-wordsmiths. There was plenty of time to share my love of language with them. Eventually, when they were old enough to understand, I created what we referred to as the "Tally Board."

For each stellar word used, they earned a point or" tally" as we called them. We agreed ahead of time on the tally goal (25 was typical) and decided on the prize. The reward was often something we would have done anyway, a summer trip to the amusement park, the movies, or a dinner out, but setting the goal and achieving it was good fun for us all.

The caveat was that the word had to be used organically, no intentional tally tipping allowed. The look on their faces when a genuine word was deemed a tally word was priceless. They proudly wrote it on the list we kept front and center of the refrigerator.

They counted down how many more were needed and admonished me when I got busy and forgot to record one. Watching my daughters work excitedly as a team together and share my childhood love of something so meaningful to me was heartening.

We rarely know the gifts we are given by our parents until they are gone.

This legacy of my mother's is one that will most assuredly be passed down from my children to theirs as well.


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