How Playing Around With Your Vocabulary Can Help You Achieve Your Dreams

What making up silly words can do for you
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Muggle. Cockalorum. Burgle.

Yes, these are all real words and though they may not sound particularly dignified or eloquent, they can teach you a thing or two about being successful.

What do these words have to do with being able to achieve your dreams and aspirations?

I’ll explain in a moment. But first, let’s start with how I was introduced to these goofy-looking letter combos.

I recently watched a TED talk given by lexicographer Erin McKean. Though I’m pretty sure its intended audience was humans half my age, I found myself laughing at all of the kooky pictures and pop culture references.

In this TED talk, Erin encouraged the listeners to start creating their own words and to not be intimidated by big ol’ scary grammar.

She even proved that this word-making game had been going on for years. The words that are in today’s dictionaries did not always exist. She explained that they were created by stealing from other languages, compounding, verbing, and just tossing out parts of one word and attaching the remainder onto another. Think of all the stuff Billy Shakespeare came up with!

This TED talk was definitely created to encourage children and young adults to have fun and stay playful, but as I listened, giggled, and learned alongside this youthful audience, I realized that what was being said went a lot deeper and could be used to shape our (twentysomething and beyond) lives in a big way.

Erin’s talk may be about words, but the lessons she teaches can actually be applied to your career and life in general. This is what I mean:

  • Acknowledge And Accept the Way Things Are

Although Erin encourages the audience to break the rules, she first acknowledges that the rules are there. Her creative suggestions accept the boundaries put in place by grammar and then, with that knowledge, start to push those boundaries. In order to create new words, she suggests starting with ones that already exist.

I think this is an important factor to keep in mind when you’re trying to break into a field. A lot of the time we forget that some of the most impressive trailblazers were “classically trained” before they created their own styles. Yep, Pablo Picasso, Zedd, and all of these rappers learned to play by the rules before they broke them down and created their own art.

Now that we have access to sites that instantly stream music and movies, it can feel like such a drag to slow down for anything. Also, with the tech industry booming it can be easy to get caught up in what’s “hot” and not really pay attention to the story or theory behind the latest app or system. But, we need to learn to slow down and really educate ourselves before we jump into a project.

This applies to everything. jQuery is an excellent shortcut for coding, but if you don’t know JavaScript, you’re not going to be able to make it work. Sure, you could be the person to write a brand new AWESOME coding language, but that’s not going to happen if you don’t know the basics first.

Lesson number 1: Slow down and take the time to really learn about your industry or art form.

  • Choose What to Change

Now that you understand that you have to learn the basics of whatever you’re interested in, we can start with the fun stuff. The stuff that really lets you get creative. But remember that you didn’t study that background information for nothing.

You should use that as the foundation to inspire your creativity. Erin uses an example in her TED talk about how the verb “friending” was created from the noun “friend.”

Turning the noun “friend” into the verb “friending” was something that happened when you suddenly had the option of adding someone as a “friend” on Facebook. But that new term could never have been created without an understanding of a suffix or the basic constructions of a sentence. So even though the word changed by becoming a verb, it still worked within the fundamental rules of the English language.

I know, I know. You’re young and filled with groundbreaking ideas that could totally revolutionize any industry you’re interested in. But remember that your ideas and creations should be founded in a thorough knowledge of what they’re related to. If you’re in the finance industry, study accounting, learn techniques of established brokers. Then start figuring out how you can totally revolutionize the way you trade on the stock market.

I’m currently reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. I consider her to be one of the pioneers of comedy and improv—especially for women. But even she drew inspiration from the comedy world around her.

She says in one of her chapters, “Watching great people do what you love is a good way to start learning how to do it yourself.”

I think we can agree that Amy Poehler and Gilda Radner have different comedic timing. Yet, it was through watching Gilda’s (and many other comedians’) routines that Amy was able to understand improv and develop her own brand of comedy. She saw what Gilda did and what worked for her. Then Amy took those observations and figured out what she could take, alter, or change completely to create her own brand of funny.

Lesson number 2: Discover how to fit what already exists into your own brand.

  • Do It

I want to start this lesson off with another quote from Amy Poehler’s book. Not too much further into the chapter she refers back to a time when she’d just finished watching Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell perform and she was left impressed.

She describes her reaction in the book, “I remember thinking, ‘you are all so good and I wish I were better. Now get out of here because I want to be where you are.’”

What I want you to pay attention to is that last line. “Now get out of here because I want to be where you are.”

She’s ready to go. She is watching these incredible comedians and thinking to herself that she is nowhere near as talented, and yet that doesn’t deter her at all from wanting to give it a try for herself.

In Erin’s TED talk, she encourages the audience to do the same thing. She tells them to start making up words right then and there! There are absolutely no reasons why they shouldn’t. There’s nothing standing in the way of creating. Even if you think your words are stupid compared to lollygagging or rigmarole, you should make them up anyway! You never know when you’ll create a real gem like superfastudiousness!

This should be the same attitude that you adopt with every aspect of your life. If you want to write a screenplay, start writing it! Even if you don’t think it will ever compare to The Phantom of the Opera or A Streetcar Named Desire, write it anyway. If you want to play soccer, start playing. You might even be able to make it to a pro league like this woman. But even if you don’t, who cares? You’re still having fun and that’s good enough.

The point is, if you try, you have a chance to succeed. You have no chance of success if you never give it a go.

Lesson number 3: Don’t be afraid to give it a try. If you mess up, who cares? Try it again in a different way. Make up a word right now! Write your screenplay. Kick a ball around a field. Start doing.

Homework time! See if you can start applying these three lessons to different goals you have. Want to write a book? Start reading about the art of writing. Read different types of authors and genres. Then choose what techniques you want to keep, what you want to alter, and what you want to change completely. And do it now!

Want a career in public relations? Start researching what it’s like to work in that field. Learn how seasoned professionals grow their networks and reach out to journalists. Study successful PR companies. Then start figuring out how to change those approaches to work for you.

Do it!

No, seriously. Start now, you big dumblebus!

(See what I did there? I made up a word and it totally worked.)

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