Five letter fun | Eastern North Carolina Now

Lib Campbell: Above
    Bright. Shiny. Treat. That's what Wordle is. The New York Times started a trend in a game that takes the Jumbles to a new height. Six guesses with an algorithmic competitor is great fun, and a vocabulary builder. Challenging yourself to guess the word. Finding out which letters go in which place becomes an early morning trial of recall for the brain and a struggle course for the spirit.

    Five letter words are so versatile in the English language. They speak into our faith. Jesus. Light. Shine. Abide. Glory. Stick around; I've got a million of them.

    Word games have always attracted me. Mother always did Jumbles, so I started there. We played Boggle and Scrabble. I always felt like we learned and laughed at the same time. Crossword puzzles take a few different skills. Interpreting clues take words to a higher level.

    When the Wordle craze started, I avoided it, knowing it would be addictive, a siren calling me every morning. I have avoided Quordle - four Wordles on the same screen with nine tries to guess all four different words. There is even a game with sixteen screens, and there are probably screens with even greater numbers of puzzles. One could spend countless hours trying to guess the simple five letter word. One would need to know so many prefixes and suffixes. A good vocabulary is a good thing to have.

    Knowledge of words is associated with the capacity to think critically. Wilfred John Funk, American poet and lexicographer published the Funk and Wagnalls dictionary in 1932. He was a keeper of words, saying, "the more words you know the more clearly and powerfully you will think... and the more ideas you will invite into your mind." He published his choices of the most beautiful words in the English language: dawn, hush, murmuring, tranquil, mist, luminous, chimes, golden, and melody. These words invite an experience beyond the knowledge of them. They evoke beauty and quiet. They shine with glory.

    Funk's list reminds me of Sally Gardner, a writer and publisher of children's books. Her dyslexia stymied her ability to read until she was almost fourteen. She does not take words for granted saying, "I collect words - they are sweets in the mouth of sound."

    Words and beauty travel together. Words and critical thinking are conjoined. Yet we live in a world where knowledge of words too often marks a divide between the haves and the have nots. When Betty Hart, an African American educator, studied vocabulary learning and social inequity, she found what she called "the word gap." Her research shows that "by the time they are four years-old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents." Her research is as recent as 2012. This should alarm all of us. Perhaps the things that divide us are as simple as a vocabulary list.

    When I see elected leaders with their weak words, droning, simplistic, and repetitive or when I hear a lot of four-letter cursing, I can't help but think somewhere we have failed to teach and to learn words that could help us communicate ideas and concepts on a higher plane. I always told my children that people cursed because they did not know words to express themselves, so they resorted to what was easy.

    I am a keeper of words. In a small wooden cigar box, I collect and keep index cards on which words that have surfaced in my reflection times are written. Three years ago, the words I was given were risk and adaptation. They were random as I reflected on them. Then the pandemic struck. The pandemic years were a great time of risk and adaptation. The words were powerful in my coping. Words come to us as instruction, as comfort, as challenge. We need to pay attention to the words that rise up in us. And we need to seek ways, Wordle and beyond, to stretch ourselves, expand our tools for thinking and knowing.

    Some of the great experiences and growth that come to us, that empower a future with hope, are in our knowledge of words and meanings. Educators and spiritual leaders know this. This does not seem like a hard fix.

    Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: She welcomes comments at
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