3:50 PM EDT, October 8, 2011
Can you guess what word fits this definition in the fourth edition of Webster's New World College Dictionary?
"A person regarded as socially dull, unsophisticated, awkward, etc., specifically as from being preoccupied with schoolwork, an intellectual hobby, etc."
I'll give you a clue. It rhymes with "herd" and describes yours truly, at least when it comes to words.
Yes, I'm a word nerd.
I blame that on my mother, who, from the time I was in elementary school, responded to my questions about what things meant with "look it up, dear."
While I'm at work, my dictionary is always open on my desk. At home, it gets opened several times a week, particularly when my son asks me the meaning of a word I spoke that is hard to define and I need help putting it in a fifth-grade context. Lately, it's also been open a lot when he's working on homework, asks me what a word means and I say, "look it up." It appears my mother's powerful words are now coming out of MY mouth.
At The Herald-Mail, we take words very seriously.
There are terms we must use to protect people, such as "allegedly." That tells the reader that someone is being accused of doing something illegal, but has not been convicted.
The Associated Press Stylebook is a tool that dictates some of the ways words are used in the newspaper. It outlines rules for writing that might frustrate readers because it's not the way they talk or typically write things.
For instance, Catholics refer to their priests as "Father," but the AP tells us we have to precede the name of clergymen or clergywomen with "the Rev." in first reference, regardless of their religion.
The word "libel" makes journalists quiver. The fourth edition of Webster's New World College Dictionary defines it as "any false and malicious written or printed statement ... tending to expose a person to public ridicule, hatred or contempt, or to injure a person's reputation in any way."
We work hard to prevent that from happening to anyone, which is why we sometimes can't print letters to the editor or we remove comments that people post online in response to stories or editorials. Yes, we have freedom of speech in America, but that doesn't mean people have the right to bash another's character through our newspaper or website.
Words have power — and so do nerds.
My son and I are reading a book called, of course, "NERDS," an acronym for National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society, and its author is Michael Buckley.
It's a great story about a team of elementary school students whose social downfalls are their gifts as spies. The characters include glue-eating Duncan, who can walk on walls and make polymers by tweaking his favorite, albeit unsavory, snack; and Matilda, who uses her nano-powered inhalers as blowtorches and to help her fly.
The main character is Jackson, a talented athlete who lost social favor when he got braces and is now trying to prove himself worthy of joining the NERDS. Before becoming a spy, Jackson was a bully who gained popularity by making the lives of the aforementioned geeks and their friends miserable.
After he discovers the amazing talents of the geeks, Jackson asks Duncan why they didn't fight back when he bullied them.
The most compelling reason Duncan gives: "It's because we know that what the popular kids have to offer the world is so tiny and unimportant compared to what the nerds will do. The dorks, dweebs, goobers and spazzes that you picked on are the ones who will grow up to discover the vaccines, write the great novels, push the boundaries of science and technology, and invent things that make people healthier and happier. Nerds change the world."
I like to think that the words printed by The Herald-Mail on paper and online not only teach readers what is going on around the community, nation and world, but that they open their minds. Maybe in some small way, they change the world.
I bear the title "word nerd" with pride and promise not to sue anyone for defamation of character if they call me that. It's the truth, and I, like my co-workers at The Herald-Mail, take that very seriously.
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