If you don't own the word you can't think the thought. It's a pretty basic concept. In simple terms, when you read or hear a word you know an image forms in your mind. When you read or hear a word you don't know, there is a blank space in your mind. So, the more words you have at your disposal results in the ability to have more far-ranging thoughts. 


Here's an illustration of this. When I say “zimno, kall, koude, or hideg,” what images popped into your mind? If you're an average American, just a lot of blanks, right? Now when I say “cold,” do images appear? Sure they do because we all own the word “cold” and that triggers scenes with snow and ice.  Well, those other four words were “cold” in Polish, Sweedish, Dutch, and Hungarian. However, we did not own those words so we could not think the thought. 



This word play is particularly fun at the beginning of each new year because various sources roll out news about words. For example, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2017 is “youthquake.” The noun, youthquake, “is defined as a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” This is a good thing because young people have the vim and vigor to stage a youthquake. I'm of the age where I could do a “geezerquake,” but only if I could do so before I hit the third click on my La-Z-Boy for my daily nap. 


Perhaps the news about words that gets the most attention is Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words. It's a “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” This year “fake news” tops the list. Other overused/misused terms hopefully headed for the scrap heap include: tons, pre-owned, nothingburger, hot water heater, and gig ecomomy. (


While this is all well and good, trying to avoid using banished words takes a lot of effort and is not very much fun. This is where another Michigan university comes in. “Wayne State's Word Warriors have plumbed their knowledge of recondite words in an attempt to make conversation a bit more couth. As part of its initiative to draw attention to some of the English language's most expressive — yet regrettably neglected — words, Wayne State University has released its annual list of the year's top 10 words that deserve to be used more often in conversation and prose.” 


In short, these are words that exist in the English language and deserve more attention because they are simply fun to use. For instance, last year my favorite on the list was “mugwump,” meaning a person who remains aloof. When it comes to words, being a “word mugewump” is no fun, so this is something to avoid being when looking at this year's list. What we want to be is “effulgent,” someone who is shining brightly and emanates joy. (


By using the Word Warriors list as a guide, we can all strive to make 2018 a “eucatastrophe,” which means the year will be a story with “a happy ending.” This is not an “Insuperable” goal which would make it “impossible to overcome,” or even “nugatory” making it “of no value or importance.” Instead this could be a “picaresque” year full of “adventures...and appealing heroes.” (


While we are reveling in the reanimation of semi-forgotten words, there are some important pieces of terminology that need to be forgotten. Of course, I'm talking about technology passwords that are so weak that they pose a danger to your online information and identity. There is no upside in being a “tech mugwump.” According to Tech Republic, these are the the top 20 worst passwords of 2017:  123456, password, 12345678, qwerty, 12345, 123456789, letmein, 1234567, football,  iloveyou, admin, welcome, monkey, login, abc123, starwars, 123123, dragon, passw0rd, master. 


Tech Republic does note that passwords are on “the way out,” soon to be usurped by technologies like facial recognition. That's fine, but when I tried to activate facial recognition on my phone by showing it my face the little voice assistant couldn't stop laughing and my phone's battery went dead. For me, I guess, strong passwords are still valuable.  


The expert advice is: “To improve security, create passwords that use phrases of 12 characters or more, with mixed types of characters including upper and lower cases.” Something like “ImA#1doo=FuS!?” could be a start to thinking along these lines. (


For the “experienced” readers in the audience, I know you might be worried about remembering a convoluted password. That's why I advise seniors to adapt their childhood phone number. These used to have a combination of a word and numbers, like Pinecrest-54321. Phone numbers like these (exchanges) ceased to exist decades ago, but I've found that most seniors can still rattle off their old numbers. Just  fiddle with the format – pineCresT?5432+1 – and you have a pretty unique password that is easy to remember. 


To summarize, when it comes to words it's easy to fall into a state of “acedia,” mental sloth or apathy. But if you resist the urge to become a “mugwump,” you can spend 2018 being downright “ebullient,” thereby “bursting with great enthusiasm or excitement.”


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neffzone columns online at and