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List of 50 Great Word Games for Kids and Adults

List of 50 Great Word Games for Kids and Adults

letters-words

If you want to improve your writing, maybe it’s time to ditch all the writing books and podcasts and play some word games instead.

Yes, seriously! Word games and writing games are great ways to develop your vocabulary, to help you think more deeply about words, to have fun with story and structure, and to get a lot of fun out of writing.

But games can be a great way to:

  • Develop your vocabulary
  • Help you think more deeply about words
  • Become more fluent in English (if it’s a foreign language for you)
  • Invent and develop characters

… and much more.

After the list of 50 writing games, I’ve given you a top ten that I think are particularly great for kids who want to practice their writing skills. Many of the other games are suitable for children, too, so by all means try out other games as a family if you want to.

Of course, there are loads of online games (and quizzes and tools) that you can use to improve your writing skills, and I will be talking about some of the best of those. But there are also lots of tried-and-tested classic games that you can play with pen and paper, or using cards and dice … and we’ll be taking a look at those first.

5 Pen and Paper Word Games


I’ll start with the simplest games: pen and paper ones that you can play pretty much anywhere, so long as you have a pen.

All of these are suitable for children, and some (like crosswords) are enjoyed by many adults too.

#1: Hangman (2+ players)

Hangman is a classic word game for two players. One player thinks of a word and writes down dashes to represent the number of letters. The other guesses letters of the alphabet. Correct letters are inserted into the word; incorrect letters result in another segment of the “hangman” being drawn.

This is a great game for developing spelling and vocabulary. If you’re playing it with small children, you can do it without the perhaps rather unpleasant “hangman” element, and just count how many guesses each player takes!

#2: Crosswords (1 player)

A crossword is a grid of white and black squares, where each white square is one letter of a word. The words intersect. You can find crosswords in many newspapers and magazines (on all sorts of subjects), and you can buy booklets and books full of them. Some crosswords are “cryptic”: great if you like brainteasers. Others have more straightforward clues.

Crosswords are great if you want to learn new words and definitions, or (at the cryptic end of the scale) if you enjoy playing with words and language. Simple ones are suitable for fairly young children, with a little help.

#3: Word searches (1 player)

A word search has a grid (often 10×10 or more) filled with letters, and a number of words written alongside or beneath the grid. The person completing the word search needs to find those words within the grid.

Most word searches are easy enough for children, though younger children will struggle with backward and diagonal words. They’re a good way to get used to letter patterns and to improve spelling – and because word searches rely on matching letters, even children who can’t read well will be able to complete simple ones.

#4: Consequences (2+ players, ideally 4+)

This is a fun game with a group of people, as you get a wild and wacky mix of ideas. Each player writes down one line of a story and folds the paper over before passing it around the table to the next player. The very simple version we play has five lines: (1) A male name, (2) The word “met” then a female name, (3) “He said …” (4) “She said …” (5) “And then …”

Once all five stages are complete, the players open out the papers and read out the results. This can be great for sparking ideas, or as a way to encourage reluctant writers to have a go.

#5: Bulls and Cows (2 players)

This game, which can also be called “Mastermind” or “Jotto” involves one player thinking up a secret word of a set number of letters. The second player guesses a word; the first player tells them how many letters match in the right position (bulls) and how many letters are correct but in the wrong position (cows).

Our five year old loves this game, and it’s been a great way to develop her spelling and handwriting as well as logical thinking about which letters can or can’t be the correct ones after a few guesses.

10 Board and Dice Games

Scrabble

These are all games you can buy from Amazon (or quite probably your local toyshop). They’re fun ways to foster a love of writing within your family, or to share your enjoyment of words with your friends.

#1: Scrabble (2+ players)

A classic of word games, Scrabble is a game played with letter tiles on a board that’s marked with different squares. (Some squares provide extra points.) Letters have different points values depending on how common they are. The end result of scrabble looks like a crossword: a number of words overlapping with one another.

If you want to develop your vocabulary (particularly of obscure two-letter words…) then Scrabble is a great game to play. It’s suitable for children too, particularly in “Junior” versions.

#2: Boggle (2+ players)

This is less well known than Scrabble, but it was one I enjoyed as a child. To play Boggle, you shake a box full of dice with a letter on each side, and the dice land in the 4×4 grid at the bottom of the box. You then make as many words as you can from the resulting face-up letters.

Again, this is a good one for developing vocabulary – and it can be played by children as well as by adults. You need to write down the words you come up with, which can also be good for developing handwriting.

#3: Pass the Bomb (2+ players)

It’s very simple to play: you deal a card for the round pass a “bomb” around the table and when it goes off, the person holding it loses. Before you can pass the bomb on during your turn, you need to come up with a word that contains the letters on the card.

It’s a fun family or party game, and can work well with a wide range of ages. It’s a great way to help children think about letter patterns, too, and to develop vocabulary and spelling.

#4: Story Cubes (1+ players)

There are lots of different versions of these available, and they all work in a similar way. The open-ended game has a set of cubes that you roll to create ideas for a story that you can tell along with the other players. If you prefer, you can use them to come up with stories that you’re going to write on your own.

There are lots of different ways you can use them: as writing prompts for a school class or group, to make up a bedtime story together with your children, for getting past your own writers’ block, or almost anything you can think of.

#5: Apples to Apples (2+ players)

Apples to Apples has red cards (with the name of a person, place, thing, etc) and green cards (with two different descriptions): the player with a green card selects one of the descriptions, and others have to choose a card from their hand of red cards. The judge for that game decides which red card best matches the description.

If you want to develop your vocabulary (or your kids’), this could be a fun game to play. There are lots of expansions available, plus a “junior” version with simpler words. (If you’re playing with adults, you might also want to consider Cards Against Humanity, a decidedly not-kid-friendly game that works in a very similar way.)

#6: Letter Tycoon (2+ players)

In this game, you have a hand of 7 cards which you can use in conjunction with the 3 “community cards” to create a valuable word. It’s a more strategic game than some others, with aspects of finance (like patents and royalties) involved too – if you’re a budding tycoon, you might really enjoy it.

Because not all the game strategy depends on simply being good with words, it doesn’t matter if some players have a larger vocabulary than others. It’s suitable for children, too, so you can play it as a family game.

#7: Dabble (2+ players)

Dabble is a family-friendly game where you compete with other players to be the first to create five words (of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 letters) using your 20 tiles. It’s very simple to get the hang of … but coming up with the words might be more challenging than you expect!

If you enjoy Boggle or Scrabble, you’ll probably have fun with Dabble. It’s a great way to develop both spelling and vocabulary, and to have fun with words.

#8: Upwords (2+ players)

Upwords is like 3D Scrabble: you can stack tiles on top of other tiles to create new words. The board is smaller than a Scrabble board (and doesn’t have double and triple word score squares) so it’s not as complex as it might initially sound.

Like similar games, it’s a great one for building vocabulary and for developing your spelling. It’s suitable for kids, too, so it could be a great game for the whole family.

#9: Tapple (2+ players)

Tapple has a wheel, with most of the letters of the alphabet on it, and lots of different “topic cards” that cover 144 different categories. There are lots of different ways you can play it – the basic rules are that each player has to think of a word that fits the topic within 10 seconds, but that word can’t start with a starting letter that’s been used previously.

While small children might find it a bit too challenging or frustrating, due to the short time limit, this could be a great game for older children looking to extend their vocabulary. All the categories are suitable for kids.

#10: Last Word (2+ players)

In Last Word, players have to come up with answers to “Subject” and “Letter” combinations, racing to get the last word before the buzzer. It works a bit like a combination of “Tapple” and “Pass the Bomb”.

You can easily play it with a large group (there are tokens for up to 8 players, but you could add more without affecting the gameplay). It’s a great way to develop vocabulary and, to some extent, spelling.

5 Roleplaying Games

dungeons-and-dragons

While my geeky tendencies have been reined in a bit since I had kids, I’ll admit I have a great fondness for roleplaying games: ones where you come up with a character (often, but by no means always in a magic-medieval setting) and play as them. These are some great ones that you might like to try.

#1: Dungeons and Dragons (3+ players)

Although you might never have played Dungeons and Dragons, I’m sure you’ve heard of this classic roleplaying game that’s been around since 1974 and is now onto is 5th edition. It takes rather longer to get to grips with than a board or card game: to play, you need a “Dungeon Master” (essentially the storyteller of the game) and at least two players (who each control a character), plus rulebooks and a lot of different dice.

It’s a great game for developing the “big picture” aspects of writing, like the ability to construct a plot and a story (if you’re the Dungeon Master) and the skills involved with creating a character, giving them a backstory, and acting “in character” as them (if you’re one of the players).

#2: Amazing Tales (1 parent, plus 1 or 2 children)

This is a kid-friendly RPG aimed at parents who want to create a story with their child(ren). It’s like a very simple version of Dungeons and Dragons, and has straightforward but flexible rules. You can play it with a single six-sided dice – though it’s better if you have four dice (with six, eight, ten and twelve sides).

If you want to encourage your child’s creativity and have fun creating stories together, this is a wonderful game to play. The rulebook contains lots of ideas and sample settings, with suggested characters and skills … but you can come up with pretty much any scenario you like.

#3: LARP (Live Action Roleplay) (lots of players)

Over the past decade or so, LARP has become a bit more mainstream than it once was. It’s short for “Live Action Roleplay” … which basically means dressing up as your character and pretending to be them. It’s a bit like Dungeons and Dragons crossed with improv drama.

The nature of LARP is that it needs quite a lot of people, so unless you have loads of friends to rope in, you’ll want to join an organised LARP – there are lots out there, covering all sorts of different themes, from traditional fantasy ones to futuristic sci-fi ones. Some are suitable for children, but do ask event organisers about this. They won’t necessarily involve any sort of writing, but can be a great way to explore characters and dialogue.

#4: MUDs (lots of players)

MUDs, or “multi-user dungeons” have been around since the early days of networked computing in the ‘70s, and are the forerunners of games like Fortnite and World of Warcraft. They’re now distinctly retro-looking text-based online games, where players create a character and interact with other characters and the world.

Like other types of roleplaying game, they’re a great way to practice storytelling and character-development skills. They also involve a lot of writing – so they can be useful for things like vocabulary and spelling. Some are suitable for children, but as with anything online, do ensure your children know how to be safe (e.g. by not giving out their full name, address, etc).

#5: Online Forum Games / Forum Roleplaying (2+ players)

Some fan communities write collaborative fanfiction through forums (here’s an example), with different people posting little pieces as different “characters” to continue a story. These can be quite involved and complex, and they can be a great way to learn the skills of telling a long, detailed story (e.g. if you’re thinking of writing a novel).

They’ll probably appeal most to writers who are already producing fanfiction on their own, and who have a fair amount of time for the back-and-forth required for forum roleplaying. Again, if your child wants to get involved with this type of roleplaying, do make sure you monitor what they’re doing and who they’re interacting with.

10 Word Games You Can Play on Your Phone

mobile-phone-games

These days, many writers are more likely to have their phone to hand than a pen and paper … and to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that. You can easily make notes on a phone, whether by tapping them in or by recording them. If you find yourself with a bit of time on your hands, why not try one of these writing-related games?

Note: all of these are free to download, but most allow in-app purchases, and you may find you need to make a purchase to get the most out of them.

#1: Bonza Word Puzzle

This game is a bit like a deconstructed crossword: you get bits of the puzzle and you drag them together to form words that will all match with the clue. If you’re a fan of crosswords and want something a bit different, you might just love it.

It’s a great way to think hard about letter patterns and how words are put together, so it might be a good game for older children who’re looking to develop their spelling and vocabulary, too.

#2: Dropwords 2

Dropwords 2 (a rewrite of the original Dropwords) is a word-finding puzzle where letters drop from the top of the screen: if you remember Tetris, you’ll get the idea. It’s a bit like Scrabble or Boggle, and you have to race the clock to make letters out of the words on the screen.

With six different modes (“normall”, “lightning”, “relax”, etc), it’s suitable for children and for people who are learning English, as well as for those wanting to really challenge their vocabulary skills.

#3: Spellspire

Spellspire is a fantasy-style game where you select letters from a grid to create words: the longer the word, the bigger the blast from your magic wand! You can kill monsters, buy better equipment, and make your way to the top of the Spellspire.

If your kids aren’t very motivated to practice their spelling, this could be a great game for them. (Or, let’s face it, for you!) You can also choose to play it against your Facebook friends, adding a competitive element.

#4: TypeShift

This is a relatively simple game that lets you create words from letters arranged on different dials. There are a couple of different ways you can play: by trying to use all the letters on the dials at least once to create words, or by tackling the “Clue Puzzles”, which are a bit like crossword clues.

Again, if you want to develop your spelling and vocabulary, this is a straightforward game that you can use to do so. You can buy extra puzzle packs at a fairly reasonable price, if you find that you want to play it a lot.

#5: Wordalot

This crossword app uses pictures rather than written clues, which is a fun twist. You can use coins to get hints (you can earn these through the game, or purchase them with real money).

If you enjoy doing crosswords but want something a bit different, give this one a try. You might find that as well as helping you develop your spelling and vocabulary, it’s a great way to develop your lateral thinking as you puzzle out the clues.

#6: WordBrain

This game is another one where you have to find hidden, scrambled words within a grid. There are loads of different levels (1180!) and so this could keep you busy for a long time. You can purchase hints – this could potentially see you clocking up quite a spend, though.

All the words are appropriate for children (though some are tricky to spell), so your kids might well enjoy this game too, as a way to develop their spelling and vocabulary.

#7: Ruzzle

Ruzzle works like Boggle, with a 4×4 grid of letters that you use to make words (the letters must be adjacent to one another). You can play it against friends, or simply against random players.

Like the other apps we’ve looked at, it’s a good one for developing your vocabulary and spelling. Some players said it included too many ads, so this is something to be aware of if you plan to use the free version rather than upgrading.

#8: WordWhizzle Search

This is a word search type game with loads of different levels to play. If you enjoy word searches, it’s a great way to carry lots around in your pocket! You can play it alone or with Facebook friends. It’s easy to get to grips with, but the levels get increasingly tricky, so you’re unlikely to get bored quickly.

As with other apps, this is a great one for developing your spelling and vocabulary. Each level has a particular description (words should match with this), so you have to avoid any “decoy” words that don’t match.

#9: 7 Little Words

This game works a bit like a crossword: each puzzle has seven clues, seven mystery words, and 20 tiles that include groups of letters. You need to solve the clues and rearrange the letter types so you can create the answers to the mystery words – so it’s also a bit like an anagram.

There are five different difficulty levels (“easy” to “impossible”) and each game is quick to play, so this could be a good one for kids too. Again, it’s a great way to develop vocabulary and spelling.

#10: Words With Friends

This classic word-building game is hugely popular, and you can play against your Facebook or Twitter friends, or against a random opponent. It works just like Scrabble, where you have seven letter tiles and add them to a board.

You can chat with the opponent in a chat window, so do be aware of this if you’re allowing your kids to play. The game is a great way to develop vocabulary and spelling, and you can play it fairly casually because there’s no time limit on your moves.

10 Word Games You Can Play in Your Browser

wild-west-hangman

What if you want a writing-related game you can play while taking a break at your computer? All of these are games that you can play in your browser: some involve a lot of writing and are essentially story-telling apps, whereas others are essentially digital versions of traditional pen and paper games.

Unless otherwise noted, these games are free. With some free browser games, you’ll see a lot of ads. If this annoys you, or if you’re concerned that the ads may be unsuitable for your children, you may want to opt for premium games instead.

#1: Wild West Hangman

This is a digital version of Hangman, which we covered above. You choose a category for words (e.g. “Countries” or “Fruits And Vegetables”) and then you play it just like regular Hangman.

It’s simple enough for children – but it only takes six wrong guesses for your cowboy to be hanged, too, so it could get frustrating for younger children.

#2: Word Wipe

In Word Wipe, you swipe adjacent tiles (including diagonals) to create words, a bit like in Boggle. The tiles fall down a 10×10 grid (moving into the blank spaces you’ve created when your word disappears from the grid) – your aim is to clear whole rows of the grid.

Since the easiest words to create are short, simple ones, this is a great game for children or for adults who want to get better at spelling.

#3: Sheffer Crossword

As you might expect, this is a crossword game! There’s a different free puzzle each day, and you can choose from puzzles from the past couple of weeks. It looks very much like a traditional crossword, and you simply click on a clue then type in your answer.

The clues are straightforward rather than cryptic, though probably not easy enough to make this a good app for children or for English learners. If you’re a fan of crosswords, this will definitely be a great way to develop your vocabulary, though.

#4: Twine

Twine is a bit different from some of the other games we’ve looked at: it’s a tool for telling interactive stories (a bit like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, or a text-based adventure game). You lay out your story as different cards and create connections between them.

If you want to experiment with interactive fiction, this is a simple, code-free to get started – as reviewer Kitty Horrorshow puts it, “if you can type words and occasionally put brackets around some of those words, you can make a Twine game”. It’s a great way to deepen your understanding of story, plot and narrative.

#5: Storium

Like Twine, Storium is designed to help you tell stories … but these stories are written in collaboration with others. (There’s a great review, with screenshots, here on GeekMom.) You can either join a story as a character within it, or you can narrate a story – so this is a great game for building lots of different big-picture fiction-writing skills.

It’s suitable for teens, but probably involves a bit too much writing for younger children. If you’d like to write fiction but the idea of creating a whole novel on your own seems a bit overwhelming, or if you enjoy roleplaying-type games (like Dungeons and Dragons), then you might just love Storium.

#6: Words for Evil

This game combines a fantasy RPG setting (where you fight monsters, get loot, gain levels and so on), with word games to play along the way. It could be a good way to encourage a reluctant young teen writer to have fun playing with words – or you might simply enjoy playing it yourself.

The word games work in a very similar way to Word Wipe, so if you found that game frustrating, then Words for Evil probably isn’t for you!

#7: First Draft of the Revolution

This game is an interactive story, told in the form of letters (epistolary). It comes at writing from a much more literary angle than many of the other games, and if you’ve studied English literature or creative writing, or if you teach writing, then you might find it particularly interesting.

The graphics are gorgeous – playing the game is like turning the pages of a book. To play First Draft of the Revolution, you make choices about how to rewrite the main character (Juliette’s) draft letters – helping you gain insight into the process of drafting and redrafting, as well as affecting the ongoing story.

#8: Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge can be used alone or with friends, creating a collaborative story by racing against the clock. You can use it as an app on your phone, as well as on your computer, so you can add to your stories at any time.

If you struggle to stay motivated when you’re writing, then Writing Challenge could be a great way to gamify your writing life – and potentially to create collaborative works of fiction.

#9: Plot Generator

Plot Generator works a bit like Mad Libs: you select a particular type of story (e.g. short story, movie script, fairytale) then enter a bunch of words as prompted. The website creates the finished piece for you. There are also options for story ideas (essentially writing prompts), character generators, and much more on the site.

If you’re stuck for an idea, or just want to play around a bit, Plot Generator could be a lot of fun. Some of the options, like Fairy Tale, are great to use with young children – others may not be so suitable, so do vet the different options first.

#10: The Novelist ($9.99)

The Novelist follows the life of Dan Kaplan, a struggling novelist who’s also trying to be a good husband and father. You can make choices about what Dan should do to reach his goals in different areas of his life – and the decisions you make affect what happens next in the game. You are a “ghost” in the house, learning about and influencing the characters.

While there’s not any actual writing involved in the game, it could be a thought-provoking way to explore how writing fits into your own life.

10 Games to Help You Learn to Type

Typing-games

Typing might seem like an odd thing to include on a list of writing games. But so much of writing involves being able to type – and if you’re a slow typist, you’ll find that your fingers can’t keep up with your brain! While most people find that their typing does naturally improve with practice, these games are all quick ways for you (or your kids) to get that practice in a fun way.

Obviously, all of these games should help to improve typing skills: those which involve whole words may also help with spelling and vocabulary. Unless otherwise mentioned, they’re free.

#1: Dance Mat Typing

This game is designed to teach children touch type (type without looking at the keyboard). It starts off with Level 1, teaching you the “home row” (middle row) keys on the keyboard. Other letters are gradually added in as the game progresses.

It’s very much aimed at kids, so teens and adults may find the animated talking goat a bit annoying or patronising! Unlike many other free games, though, it doesn’t include ads.

#2: Spider Typer

This typing game took a while to load for me: you too many find it’s a bit slow. In the game, you type the letters that appear on chameleons that are trying to catch a spider (the chameleons disappear when you hit their letter). The spider keeps rising up into a tree, and if it safely gets there, you move on to the next level.

It’s suitable for kids, and starts off very easy with just letters: if you set it to a harder difficulty, you need to type whole words.

#3: NitroType

This is a competitive typing game where you race a car against friends (or total strangers) by typing the text at the bottom of the screen. It’s a good one for practicing typing whole sentences, including punctuation – not just typing letters or words.

Older children might enjoy it, and any adults with a strong competitive streak! You can compete as a “guest racer”, or you can create an account and login so you can level up and gain rewards like a better car.

#4: TypeRacer

TypeRacer is similar to NitroType: you control a racing car and the faster you type, the faster your car moves. You can practice on your own, enter a typing race, or race against your friends if you prefer.

If you create an account and login, other users can see your username, score, average speed and so on – and they can also send you messages. This could potentially open you up to receiving spam or unwanted communications, so do be aware of this, particularly if you’re allowing your child to play.

#5: The Typing of the Ghosts             

In this game, you destroy ghosts by typing the word on them. The graphics are pretty rudimentary, though it is a free game and a good way to practice quickly typing words. It’s suitable for children, and the sound effects (there’s a noise for every letterstroke) may appeal to kids.

You don’t need to create an account or login: you can simply start playing straight away.

#6: Typing Chef

In this game, you type cooking-related words (usually types of equipment). It involves single words and a few double words with a space between at the early levels.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about this game compared with others, though it wasn’t so ad-heavy as some and doesn’t require any registration. It’s good for teaching words and phrases, but not for helping you to learn to type whole sentences.

#7: TypeTastic

This is a fun typing game aimed at young kids, so it starts with the fundamentals. You start by building a keyboard from letter blocks, then learn how to spot letters on the keyboard quickly before learning where those letters are located.

Teachers or parents might be interested in reading about why the game starts with mapping the keyboard. The interface and graphics are pretty good, given that it’s a free game, and it’s designed specifically with young children in mind.

#8: Typer Shark! Delux

This is a free typing game, where you’re a diver exploring the seas. You can choose from different difficulty levels, and – in a mechanic that’s probably by now quite familiar if you’ve played any of the other typing games – you get rid of creatures like sharks by typing the word written on them.

Again, this can help you with your typing speed and accuracy. I found it was a bit slow to load, but it’s not full of ads like some other games.

#9: Typing Attack

In this game, you’re a spaceship, facing enemy spaceships – each with a word written on them. I expect you can guess what you need to do: type the word correctly to destroy the spaceship. Some words are shorter, some longer, and as with other games, there are multiple difficulty settings.

You’ll need to watch an ad before the game loads, which can be annoying, and means that it isn’t necessarily suitable for children.

#10: The Typing of the Dead: Overkill ($14.99)

This game is definitely aimed at adults rather than kids, because it’s a bit gory. It also costs $14.99, so it’s probably one that’ll suit you best if you’re really keen to improve your typing speed – perhaps you do transcription, for instance, or you’re a freelance writer.

To play the game, you type the words that appear in front of the enemies and monsters: each type you type a letter correctly, you send a bullet at them. If you like horror games and films, it could be a fun way to learn to type faster – but it won’t necessarily improve your accuracy with whole sentences.

10 Word Games that Are Particularly Suited to Kids

kids-games

While I’ve tried to indicate above whether or not the games are suitable for kids, I wanted to list the ten that I’d particularly recommend if you want to help your children get a great start as budding writers.

Several of these are games I play with my five-year-old already; others are games I’m really looking forward to using with her and my son as they get older. I won’t repeat the full descriptions: just scroll back up if you want those.

#1: Word searches (pen and paper) – you can buy whole books of these, or print off free ones. Older kids might have fun creating their own for their friends or siblings.

#2: Bulls and Cows (pen and paper) – you can play this with just a pen and paper (or if you’ve got a really good memory, with nothing at all).

#3: Boggle (board game) – this is simple enough for quite young children to get the hang of it: my five-year-old enjoys playing it with her Granny.

#4: Story Cubes (dice game) – your child can use these on their own to come up with ideas for a story, or you could use them with a group of children – e.g. in a classroom or as part of a club.

#5: Amazing Tales (roleplaying) – this child-friendly RPG is a great way to introduce big-picture storytelling skills, particularly developing a character.

#6: Spellspire (phone app) – a fun spelling/word-creation game your child can play on your phone (and probably a bit more educational than yet another game of Angry Birds).

#7: Wild West Hangman (browser game) – if your child likes hangman but you don’t always have the time to play it with them, this is a good alternative.

#8: First Draft of the Revolution (browser game) – if your teen is interested in writing and/or the French revolution, they might really enjoy this intriguing game based around redrafting letters.

#9: Dance Mat Typing (typing game) – this game from the BBC is high-quality, and designed to appeal to young children. It teaches good typing practice from the start, by explaining correct finger placement on the keys.

#10: TypeTastic – this is another typing game aimed at young children, and this one starts with putting together a keyboard – a great place to begin.

Do you have any favourite writing games – of any type? Share them with us in the comments.

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Original post: List of 50 Great Word Games for Kids and Adults

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Writing Within Limitations

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A writer can’t do anything he or she wants. Every human being – you too – is bound by limitations. Our readers are limited because they are human. A skillful writer learns to work with these limitations.

  1. Don’t overload the emotions of your readers. Escalating the emotional level of your story makes it interesting, you may say, so why not do it unceasingly? If one or two spies add tension to a novel, why not include forty-eight or forty-nine spies? Because the human mind can only handle so much stress (and so many characters). That’s why writers use “comic relief.” While reading about tragic events, it’s restful to read a little comedy. Skilled writers give their readers time to breathe before taking away their breath again.
  2. Don’t stretch the credibility of your readers. When I was a young student, my teacher taught us a big word: verisimilitude, meaning “lifelikeness.” That is, readers don’t mind if a story didn’t really happen, but they do mind if it couldn’t have really happened. That is, readers demand that characters display the sense and emotions of real people (even if the characters are three-eyed aliens). For example, with a well-written magical fantasy, somehow it becomes easy to believe that people can fly through the air, but hard to believe the hero wouldn’t fly through the air to rescue his beloved. It’s physically impossible to fly without wings, but it’s psychologically impossible to love someone without caring about them. I don’t think this preference is a choice, but rather an unavoidable part of human psychology, similar to our expectation that pushing an object will move it away from us – we couldn’t stand a world where the opposite happens. To explain why modern people can accept supernatural stories, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief.”
  3. Don’t overload the patience of your readers. Wise teachers say, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.” If a lecture goes on so long that a student becomes physically uncomfortable, he or she will have trouble learning from it. In the same way, you want readers to say about your book, “I couldn’t put it down,” but you should still include chapter breaks – stopping places where they can eat and sleep.

    The cliff-hanger technique of carrying suspense across chapter divisions can get to be too much, especially if the suspense isn’t warranted.

    Then came a knock at the door. Her heart pounded. Could this be her long lost true love?

    Chapter Six

    She opened the door. It was the postman, who handed her a cable TV bill.

    Length is obviously a factor in how patient your readers can be, but that doesn’t apply only to your book as a whole. Your reader will become restless with any passage that seems too long to them, such as your description of the setting. He or she will skip ahead, looking for quotation marks and white space. Of course, some of the best-selling books of all time have been long books. They have also been interesting books. I still say, if they can’t lift it, they won’t read it.

  4. Don’t forget to research commonly known facts. Some writers keep researching when they should just start writing. But if a fact can easily be checked, make sure it’s accurate. A recent novel by one of my favorite authors seemed to depend on the premise that Irish people have supernatural powers. Because I live in a country (the United States) where there are more Irish people than in Ireland, I can easily test that premise, so I was disappointed by the book. If she had written about Cornish or Manx people instead, I wouldn’t know if she were right or wrong, because I don’t know any Cornish or Manx people. When your readers catch you in an obvious error, they can say “I personally know that setting or event, but you apparently don’t,” and they may decide not to read your book. Facts tied to emotions are particularly sensitive. Don’t flippantly change the facts behind the founding of my nation or my faith, or I will be annoyed.
  5. Don’t try to display a superlative. Writers with big ideas can fall into this trap. It’s one thing to say that your character is the wisest or funniest person in the history of the world, or the most brilliant or the most intelligent. It’s another thing to show your readers an example of exactly what you think that means, which you will as soon as your character opens his mouth. Because at that point, they can instantly decide if they believe you. For example, once your character tells a joke, they will decide for themselves if he is really the funniest person in the world.

Here’s my example of displaying a superlative:

She looked out over the formally-dressed audience, glancing at the head of the Swedish Academy which was now awarding her the Nobel Prize for literature. As everyone in the hall held his or her breath, she unfolded the manuscript of her most famous poem and began to read.

If you’re writing this, you should draw a veil over the scene right here. Don’t actually quote the poem, unless you think you already deserve a Nobel Prize for literature. Can you get away with passing off your own work as an example of a Nobel Prize-winning poem?

Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and The Virtue of Selfishness, was not afraid of displaying a superlative. In her novel Atlas Shrugged, important people suddenly disappear when they hear John Galt’s message. We wonder, what could that message be? Well, Rand spends 70 pages telling us, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Writers are well advised to “show, don’t tell.” But by this point in Rand’s life, telling had become more important than showing. So she lost any readers mystified by the question of “What is making these important people suddenly disappear?” but disappointed by the answer. That is, she lost the readers who couldn’t believe what she was now displaying.

Good writers know their limits. Once you say something, your readers will use their own judgment to decide whether it’s believable. They don’t need to use their imaginations anymore. And you don’t want your readers to stop using their imaginations.

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3 Types of Word Treatment

3 Types of Word Treatment

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Spelling, capitalization, and italicization are three aspects of writing that careful writers will attend to. This post discusses the importance of recognizing standards and making conscious decisions when contemplating deviating from them.

Spelling
Employing proper spelling is one of the fundamentals of composition. Unfortunately, the explosive increase in writing opportunities afforded by the internet and social media makes it easier for careless writers to spread viral errors. Where in the past, few print publications would allow mistakes like definately and predominately, today, such misspellings are rampant on websites and blogs and in texts, not to mention in some professionally produced print publications and on occasional television broadcasts—including in chyrons, the electronically generated captions that appear below talking heads on TV.

Deteriorating writing skills and declining editing standards result in frequent spelling errors, and the only effective defense is a good offense: Proactively double-check spelling—using not just spell-checking functions (which are not infallible) but also print or online dictionaries (which are virtually perfectly reliable).

Dictionaries and other writing resources also protect writers from using incorrect or outdated word forms. For example, the few remaining hyphenated compound nouns are undergoing an evolution, as writers increasingly omit the hyphen and treat these terms as closed compounds—sometimes in a conscious decision to accelerate what is almost always an inevitable process but far more often simply out of ignorance. Changes from, for example, mind-set to mindset and start-up to startup are inevitable, but the former choice in each case is still the form listed in most dictionaries, so avoid the variant until it becomes the norm.

Capitalization
Capitalization, which, with few exceptions, denotes a proper noun, in such usage distinguishes the specific from the generic, but it is employed erroneously primarily in two contexts.

First, generic job titles are often mistakenly capitalized. When Jane Smith is identified as a senator, capitalize the job title if it appears before her name: “Senator Jane Smith.” And when the job title substitutes for the person’s name in direct address—when someone says or writes, for example, “Excuse me, Senator, do you have a moment?” the word is capitalized. In government or legal documents, the “publisher” may insist on capitalizing the job title even in isolation: “The Senator abstained.” But in all other usage, the term is generic—Jane Smith is being described as one of those entities designated as a senator.

Take care, too, about capitalizing only exact job titles. When referring to Thomas Jones, whose official designation is director of communications and marketing, write “Director of Communications and Marketing Thomas Jones,” to be formal, or “marketing director Thomas Jones,” in more casual contexts, but not “Marketing Director Thomas Jones.” (And after the name, the job title is almost invariably not capitalized; a rare exception is the exact name of an endowed professorship. Capitalization is also standard after names on lists, on résumés, and so on.) In addition, descriptions of people that identify their profession or role but are not formal job titles are not capitalized: “The truck belongs to electrician John Smith”; “She thanked team captain Mary Jones for her support.”

Similarly, a term identifying a nonliving entity should be capitalized only as part of the full name: for example, “the Mississippi River,” but “the river” (with exceptions for poetic license, as when such an entity is personified), or “the Development Committee,” but “the committee” (again, in legalese, such terms may appear capitalized).

Italicization
Italics serve to call attention to a word, phrase, or sentence; two primary functions are to identify a foreign term and to emphasize one or more words the writer wishes the reader to notice. However, the pitfall in the case of both functions is overuse. In the case of apparently foreign words or phrases, double-check that the term is in fact still technically considered foreign; many such words and phrases have been assimilated into English (evidenced by their inclusion in English dictionaries) and are no longer considered to require emphasis. (Note, too, that some writers and publishers decide that when a foreign term is used repeatedly in one piece of content, and it is defined or explained on first reference, it is italicized only in that first instance.) And when considering whether to italicize a word, phrase, or sentence to make it stand out, think twice about whether the emphasis is merited or helpful; frequent employment of any tool or technique can diminish its effectiveness.

A third common function of italics is to call attention to a word being used to name itself rather than the concept for which the word stands; compare “Moron originally denoted a mildly retarded person” and “A moron is a stupid person.” Because of this distinction, italics should not be employed to introduce a term unless the word is described as a word, as in the disclaimer “In observing the historical context of psychiatry in the early twentieth century, we use moron according to its original medical definition: ‘a mildly retarded person.’”

In spelling, capitalization, and italicization, as in any aspect of writing, the writer or publisher may choose to deviate from accepted standards, but the ultimate consideration should be whether the reader is being served by a decision that affects one or more aspects, or whether communication is being compromised rather than enhanced. In addition, a writer may ignore these standards for artistic reasons, such as in representing dialect or a fictional character’s illiteracy or overly emphatic speech patterns. Again, however, the writer should weigh the consequences of such a decision and practice moderation.

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How to Write a Joke

How to Write a Joke

Laughing-joke

Like any short form of writing, creating jokes teaches how to use a few words effectively. In this article, I will give examples of jokes and I will (shudder) explain them too. I know, you shouldn’t explain your jokes, but this helps us talk about them.

Good jokes are often:

Incongruous – This is the central feature of humor. That is, something that is funny is also surprising. Yes, it also needs to be recognizable (see below) – unless you know what something is, you don’t know what to expect from it. Unless you’re familiar with something, you don’t know what’s unfamiliar. But a joke needs to present its subject in an unexpected way.

“Well, what shall I talk about? I ain’t got anything funny to say. All I know is what I read in the papers.” Will Rogers

Recognizable – That’s probably why comics and humorists get so much material from current events or popular culture. They know their audiences will recognize the jokes if it’s based on what everyone is currently talking about. That’s also why inside jokes work so well. When I was sixteen, I combined several of my history teacher’s favorite expressions into one sentence: “Well, ol’ Richelieu thought that was such a hoot that he lost his facilities like there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow.” That may not seem particularly funny to you, but it seemed funny to my fellow history students.

“Pretentious? Moi?

Short – A joke is funniest when it uses the fewest possible words, because humor requires limiting complexity. Robert I. M. Dunbar, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University, found that the funniest jokes have only two characters and less than five layers of meaning. On one hand, your joke is not funny if you have to explain it. On the other hand, if nobody understands the point, it’s not funny either. Humor depends on a careful, delicate balance between giving too many hints and giving too few. The preceding joke comes from a Reddit list of the world’s shortest jokes, and its irony is that if you use gratuitous French words such as “moi,” you will seem pretentious. I wanted to give you a chance to get the joke before I explained it.

“It doesn’t really matter how many sit-ups you did this morning if you get hit with a Volvo.” – Ronald Dee White, paraphrased

Specific – A joke about Volvos in particular is funnier than one about cars in general. Writers know that specifics are more interesting than generalities, but that apparently makes them more humorous too. Let’s face it, some words are funnier than others. Unfortunately for the Ford Motor Company, their car name “Edsel” was too humorous to become popular. Ronald Dee White’s joke has the added irony of being hit by “the world’s safest car.”

“Wait ’til the yoga class sees my killer ‘tree position’.”

Unexpected – That’s why a humorist must be like a magician, able to hide his tricks. Or like a mystery writer, who wants her readers say, “I should have seen that coming” exactly half the time and “I would never have seen that coming” the other half of the time. If readers expect the punchline, it may not turn out funny. That’s why a well-presented joke may not sound like a joke until the end. I think my humor, more than anything else, depends on bluntness. That is, when I make people laugh, it’s often by being dead serious. It surprises people that I’m saying exactly what’s happening. For example, we don’t expect a successful adult to admit they’re taking yoga classes to impress other successful adults, and the joke is funnier because of the incongruity between competitiveness and yoga’s goal of attaining control over one’s desires (I think). This is one of about twelve drafts of this joke. How would you rewrite it to make it funnier?

“When I came to this town,” said the millionaire businessman, “I had only a quarter in my pocket. But I used that quarter wisely. I called home for more money.”

Insightful – A good joke goes beyond incongruity to touch what it means to be human. It’s incongruous to play a trick on a disabled person, but because it’s inhumane and unjust, somehow it’s not really funny. When good triumphs over evil, or when a pompous person is humbled, that makes the joke more satisfying. And just being human is often funny. Our expectations lead us to assume the businessman will boast of investing 25 cents and turning it into a million dollars. We haven’t done something like that, but instead of making us feeling like failures, this joke lets us feel good that the businessman didn’t either.

Respectful – Some pseudo-jokes are incongruous but not funny because they don’t make sense or respect their audience. One is the interminable “shaggy dog story” whose punchline doesn’t justify the time spent hearing it. In the original joke, after a long series of irrelevant digressions (one such joke takes 45 minutes to tell) that have little to do with the dog in question, a character finally says only, “He’s not so shaggy.” Another group of jokes shares the meaningless punchline: “No soap, radio.” But because the punchline isn’t funny, these jokes are themselves practical jokes. The teller gets perverse amusement from his bewildered audience (“Get it? ‘No soap… RADIO!’ Ha ha ha!”), either when they admit “I don’t get it,” or when they pretend to find the joke humorous.

Two old ladies are in a restaurant. One complains, “You know, the food here is just terrible.” The other shakes her head and adds, “And such small portions.” – Woody Allen

Narrative – If you want to touch your readers’ humanity as well as surprise them, maybe you shouldn’t write jokes, but write stories. The best humor includes the basic elements of a story, such as character and conflict and wisdom. If you simply follow a standard joke structure, such as “garden path” or “reverse,” your readers may anticipate your punchline. But when you tell a story, you may catch your readers off guard – they may not realize you’re telling a joke. Woody Allen describes people we all know, who complain a lot, but his joke reminds us that after a certain point, complaining doesn’t make sense.

Humor is studied by scientists: University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod Martin has found more than 4,000 peer-reviewed journal articles on the psychology of humor. But as you practice it, you’ll discover that humor writing is not only a science, but an art as well. You can never predict with certainty what people will laugh at. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

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How to Play HQ Words: Cheats, Tips and Tricks

How to Play HQ Words: Cheats, Tips and Tricks

HQ-words-logo

Word nerds rejoice! Imagine a word game where you can have fun and win cash prizes by leveraging your vast vocabulary. Well, it exists, and it is called HQ Words.

The game was created by the same team who came up with the widely popular HQ Trivia. On HQ Trivia you compete in real time against players all over the world by answering to trivia questions. There is a live host who presents each question, and if you manage to pick the right answer on all the rounds (there are 12 in total) you win a cash prize, which is shared if there is more than one player with a perfect score. For some reason the game went viral in 2018, to a point where millions of people were competing at the same time. Initially the daily prize was just $100, but as the number of players and game sponsors grew that number ballooned to $25,000, with special events giving up as much as $400,000 as prize.

In order to reach a wider audience the team decided to launch new games. Earlier this year a sports version of the trivia game was introduced, and last week HQ words was launched.

How to Play HQ Words

The first thing you need to know is that you don’t need a separate mobile app to play HQ Words. The game runs inside the HQ Trivia mobile app (now called HQ – Trivia and Words) which you can find for both iOS and Android devices.

Second, the game is is still in its beta version, and it is not available to everyone. For this reason you might not find it inside the mobile. Until a couple of weeks ago players would need an invite to be able to play, but it looks like the team is gradually making the game available for more and more players, so just keep an eye on your mobile app until it becomes available to you.

HQ-words

As for the gameplay itself, you basically need to solve word puzzles by guessing the hidden letters. The order in which you type the letters doesn’t matter as long as they are present in the world. You can also type up to two incorrect letters. Upon the third incorrect attempt you are eliminated from the game. At the beginning of each round you will also spin a wheel to get one random letter ultimately revealed from the word.

Much like HQ trivia, there are 10 rounds to go through, and the players who get all rounds correctly share the cash price. You can play the game daily at 6:30 PM Pacific Standard Time, and currently the daily cash prize is $200.

Are there HQ Words cheats?

HQ Trivia gained notoriety last year because many users relied on bots (i.e. computer software) to cheat and automatically get the correct answer to the proposed trivia questions from the Internet, beating players who didn’t have such help. Given the sizes that the prizes reached, such attempts to game the system were expected, but some people complained that the company behind the game didn’t put a lot of effort to combat the available mechanisms to cheat. Over time the structure of the game evolved (e.g. the time available to answer each question was reduced) and the problem was mitigated (though probably not entirely solved).

Unfortunately it looks like the same problem is happening on HQ Words. As you can see on the screenshot below, some users took around five seconds to complete all 10 word puzzles, which is humanly impossible.

hq-words-cheat

As we mentioned above, the game is still in its beta version, and it is likely that the development team will come up with changes to block cheats and bots. We hope they manage to do that, otherwise it will ruin the fun for the rest of us.

Tips and tricks to do well

If you are looking for tips and tricks to do well in the game without having to resort to the methods above, here are some that might help you:

1. Memorize the most common letters in the English language and use them when you believe they might be included in the hidden word.

letter-frequency

2. Try to come up with variations and synonyms of the provided hint.

3. In case of multiple hidden words, such as “back to school,” try to isolate and identify the article first.

4. Technically this could be considered cheating, but if you play with a friend in the same room you could double your chances of identifying the word by sharing the letters you are guessing.

Are you playing the game already? What do you think about it? Do you have other tips and tricks we have not mentioned? Leave a comment below with your opinion.

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1,462 Basic Plot Types

1,462 Basic Plot Types

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For centuries, writers and critics have tried to put stories into basic categories. I’ve written about the scientific quest for universal plot types using the Hedonometer and the theories of Kurt Vonnegut. My colleague Mark Nichol has written about several lists of types of plots: three types, seven types, another seven types, twenty types, and thirty six types. Before I reread Mark’s article, I thought I could combine them all and write my own article called The 69 Types of Plots. Then I heard about the 1928 book Plotto, where dime store novelist William Wallace Cook comes up with 1,462 basic plots. So it never ends.

Is it really true that all stories fit into rigid plot types? Maybe not. Even Plotto‘s categories don’t always seem rigid to me. But human nature does dictate certain rules. There’s a reason why the Computational Story Laboratory’s Hedonometer has a story type “rise then fall then rise” but not one called “rise rise rise rise.” Our emotions need a contrasting break. If you write an experimental story without either conflict or plot or character development, the result will probably not be innovative so much as it will be boring. If you decide to be clever by not tying up any loose ends, you will succeed in frustrating your reader instead of delighting him. No, certain plots are universally attractive, even if we don’t understand why. Even business proposals are easier to adopt if they have a plot.

The theories of psychoanalyst Carl Jung has deeply influenced several list-makers, such as Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and Christopher Booker (The Seven Basic Plots). Jung’s mythology has lost the lion’s share of the popularity it once held. But the fact that stories all over the world have common elements: that’s more than a theory. Joseph Campbell describes 17 stages from Departure, Initiation, and Return. Christopher Booker’s meta-plot has five elements:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Dream
  3. Frustration
  4. Nightmare
  5. Resolution

Another theory which you might have learned in school says there are four types of plots. Here is my take on them:

  • Dramatic – the traditional chronological story, with a climax and a resolution.
  • Episodic – chronological but less linear and more loose, often made up of separate character-based episodes instead of a single story.
  • Parallel – two chronological stories are woven together. The focus may shift back and forth from the events of one character to the other.
  • Flashback – not chronological: events from the past are sometimes presented after events of the present. This can be interesting but confusing.

When I looked at the lists in Mark’s article, I realized that some items are not mutually exclusive. Some lists have a different focus and basic types appear on more than one list. Also, your story can have more than one basic plot or conflict. The longer your story is, the longer you need to hold your reader’s interest, and the more plot elements or conflicts you will need to include. In Plotto, William Wallace Cook makes it to 1,462 by combining and recombining plot elements.

One common list of plot types (man against x, man against y, man against z, etc.) is actually a list of conflict types, several of which can appear in a single story.

In a classic amnesia tale, a man regains consciousness with no memory of who he is. He realizes he has driven his car off the road into a snowbank (or into a hole, making him a “man in a hole.”) He is able to start the car (person vs. technology) without freezing to death (person vs. nature). He goes to the home address on his driver’s license and convinces the hostile woman who answers the door – presumably his wife – to let him in (person vs. person) while hiding the fact that he doesn’t remember who she is. His personal calendar tells him he has an appointment in two hours, where he pretends to remember the woman he’s meeting with, learning that they are leaders in a criminal conspiracy (person vs. society). That night, he dreams about his family and associates, He is tempted to deny the evil that he sees (person vs. self) and the fact, as it turns out, that he has dreamed actual events (person vs. supernatural). Aware now of what kind of life he has led, he must decide whether to change his life or continue on the same destructive path (person vs. higher power).

Basic Plot Types (69 of them)

Finally, here’s a list of all the plot types referred to in Mark Nichol’s article:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. Voyage and Return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth
  7. Person versus higher power/fate

  8. Person versus self
  9. Person versus person
  10. Person versus society
  11. Person versus nature
  12. Person versus the supernatural
  13. Person versus technology
  14. Quest

  15. Adventure
  16. Pursuit
  17. Rescue
  18. Escape
  19. Revenge
  20. The Riddle
  21. Rivalry
  22. Underdog
  23. Temptation
  24. Metamorphosis
  25. Transformation
  26. Maturation
  27. Love
  28. Forbidden Love
  29. Sacrifice
  30. Discovery
  31. Wretched Excess
  32. Ascension
  33. Descension
  34. Supplication

  35. Deliverance
  36. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
  37. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  38. Pursuit
  39. Disaster
  40. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
  41. Revolt
  42. Daring Enterprise
  43. Abduction
  44. The Enigma
  45. Obtaining
  46. Enmity of Kinsmen
  47. Rivalry of Kinsmen
  48. Murderous Adultery
  49. Madness
  50. Fatal Imprudence
  51. Involuntary Crimes of Love
  52. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
  53. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
  54. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
  55. All Sacrificed for Passion
  56. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  57. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
  58. Adultery
  59. Crimes of Love
  60. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
  61. Obstacles to Love
  62. An Enemy Loved
  63. Ambition
  64. Conflict with a God
  65. Mistaken Jealousy
  66. Erroneous Judgement
  67. Remorse
  68. Recovery of a Lost One
  69. Loss of Loved Ones

If that’s not enough, you can always try Plotto. The system is a little complicated, though.
Plots 785-787 from Plotto

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Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Words of the Year

Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Words of the Year

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Toward the end of every calendar year, Merriam-Webster, like other major dictionaries, shares a list of the words most frequently searched for on its website. As usual, this search traffic is largely driven by public discourse, as people look up words they see and hear in the media and in conversations, seeking to learn definitions of unfamiliar words or to clarify for themselves the meanings of words they know (or think they know). This post discusses Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2018 and ten runners-up.

The Word of the Year, justice, was newsworthy in several contexts. The primary sense is that of administration or maintenance of fairness and lawfulness, and increasing concern about social justice has brought the concept, and the term that represents it, to the forefront in our society. But justice is a job title as well as a concept, referring to a judge on a national or state supreme court or similar body, and the controversy over confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court also led people to check the definition. (The senior member of a supreme court is often titled “chief justice,” while the others are designated “associate justices.”) Finally, on a more trivial note, the Justice League is a team of superheroes created for DC Comics and appearing in various media, including a film released late last year.

The runners-up include nationalism, which has figured prominently in the media as the concept gains traction throughout the world, including in the United States, where President Donald Trump recently unabashedly identified himself as a nationalist. However, he, like many people, appears to be unclear on the concept: Nationalism is often conflated with patriotism. However, while the latter term refers to pride in one’s country, nationalism denotes loyalty to a nation at the expense of international (and intranational) harmony. Nationalism is closely associated with fascism, a political philosophy that incorporates dictatorial control and centralization of authority and brutal suppression of individuals and groups deemed undesirable or resistant to fascists’ goals. In summary, to be called a nationalist is decidedly not a compliment, and to call oneself a nationalist does not invite compliments.

Pansexual, incorporating a Greek prefix meaning “all,” refers to a conception of gender identity and sexual orientation as something that occurs along a spectrum, rejecting the idea of binary categorization.

Lodestar, originally denoting Polaris, the North Pole Star, which for millennia has served as a navigational aid, now refers more broadly to a guide, inspiration, or model. (Lode is a Middle English word meaning “course” or “way; it’s seen also in the context of mining: A lode is a deposit of ore.) The term had a vogue this year after it was used in an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times purportedly written by a senior Trump administration official. Because Vice President Mike Pence is known to use the fairly obscure term, some people suspected him of being the author.

An epiphany is an appearance or manifestation, but the term is most commonly employed to refer to a realization or revelation. Its popularity as a search term early this year likely resulted from the Christian holiday by that name, which on January 6 commemorates the visit of the Magi, or Three Wise Men, to where the infant Jesus lay; it derives from the Greek verb epiphainein, meaning “manifest.”

Feckless, used by a television commentator to criticize Ivanka Trump for, in her role as adviser to her father, failing to criticize the Trump administration’s immigration policies, employs the root feck, of Scottish origin, meaning “value” or “worth.” Essentially, it is a rare synonym for worthless.

Laurel, the word for a tree whose foliage was used to crown victors in athletic events in ancient Greece, became a hot search term when a debate erupted online about which of two words was being enunciated in an online dictionary’s pronunciation sound file. By extension of its original definition, the term came to apply to the celebratory object itself and to figurative honors; one idiom based on the term is “rest on (one’s) laurels,” which alludes to someone who, upon achieving an honor, refrains from attempting feats that bring further recognition. (Usage generally pertains to one who does not rest on one’s laurels, meaning that person does seek other honors.)

Pissant was frequently looked up after a radio personality described a famous football player’s daughter with the word, which is a derogatory dialectal term formed from piss and ant. (This word is not to be confused with puissant, a rare term meaning “powerful” and etymologically related to power and potent. All three words derive from the Latin term posse, meaning “able,” which survives in English as the term for a group deputized to pursue a fugitive or, more loosely, to denote one’s entourage.)

The death this year of Aretha Franklin, best known for her rousing rendition of the song “Respect,” prompted look-ups of that word, which literally means “look back.” (The second syllable of that word, meaning “look,” is also the root of spectacle, spectator, inspect, suspect, and so on.)

Maverick is a term often applied to the late John McCain, a US senator and presidential aspirant, for his frequent opposition to party-line politics. The word, describing someone who often acts without regard for group or party loyalty, derives from the surname of a gentleman who, after taking a small herd of cattle as payment for a debt, neglected to brand them, rendering them vulnerable to appropriation by other ranchers, who rounded them up on the open range and applied their own brands to the livestock. Since then, the word has been a synonym for independent, though “stolen from a careless owner” would be a more appropriate association.

The death of Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee this year resulted in references to excelsior, the word with which Lee typically signed off in the columns he wrote for his company’s comic books. Though the primary meaning of the word is mundane—it was a trademark for a brand of wood shavings used as protective packing material and later a generic term—its origin is the Latin word meaning “higher”; excel, excellent, and so on are related.

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Original post: Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Words of the Year

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11 Writing Exercises to Inspire You and Strengthen Your Writing

11 Writing Exercises to Inspire You and Strengthen Your Writing

Writing-exercises

Whether you’re writing just for fun, for school, or with professional goals in mind, these exercises can all help you to improve your writing. Some will give you inspiration, others will help you avoid editing as you write, and many of them will help you pay closer attention to your word choices.

I hope you’ll enjoy giving them a go!

#1: Cover Your Screen While You Write

If you find yourself doing more editing than actual writing, then try covering up (or, on a laptop, turning down) your screen while you draft.

If, like me, you can touch-type – try closing your eyes instead. I find it surprisingly relaxing! (Though I tend to stop every sentence or two to make sure I’ve hit the keys I thought I was hitting…)

At first, it might seem odd not to be able to see the words that you’re typing – but you might well find that you write faster and express your thoughts more freely this way.

#2: Set a Daily Writing Goal and Track Your Progress

Writing, as most other crafts, only gets better with practice. If you want to improve, therefore, you will need to write pretty much every single day.

The best strategy to achieve this objective is to set a goal of how many words you want to write per day, and then to track your progress over time. A simple notebook or spreadsheet should be enough for you to record your daily statistics.

The Prolifiko blog has a great piece with more tips to set writing goals and resolutions and to make sure you achieve them.

#3: Use a Writing Prompt to Get You Going

If you want to write, but you don’t know what you want to write, try using a writing prompt. This could be anything from a story scenario (“write about someone who gets caught in a lie”) to a blog post title (“Ten Things I Wish I Could Tell My 15-Year-Old Self”).

Here are a couple of sources of prompts to keep you busy for a while:

25 creative writing prompts, a list of prompts you can use to start writing a simple story or even a novel.

365 Creative Writing Prompts, from Think Written – a mixed bag of prompts, with some for stories and some for poems; many would also work for blogging.

Even if you’re working on a longer piece, like a novel, prompts can be helpful. A line of dialogue, for instance, might give you just the inspiration you need for your next scene.

#4: Don’t Start at the Beginning … Start at the End

There’s no writing rule that says you need to begin at the beginning. In fact, many writers find it more effective to start at the end.

You can do this in a couple of different ways:

  • Start your story (or blog post, etc) close to the chronological end – e.g. you might begin with “As I stared down the mountain, I couldn’t believe I was actually here…” You can then jump back in time and narrate the events that led up to that point.
  • Write the end of your blog post (or story, etc) first. Once you’ve written your concluding paragraphs or final scenes, you’ll know what you’re leading up to. If you prefer not to write it out in full, you could make notes.

#5: Rewrite a Masterpiece or a Famous Story

Choose a famous masterpiece or classic novel (like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) and write your own version.

This is a great exercise because you can do it at almost any level: you could write a short story for children, or you could write a whole novel or screenplay. (Bridget Jones’s Diary, for instance, borrowed heavily from Pride and Prejudice; the children’s movie Gnomeo and Juliet is based, as you might guess, on Romeo and Juliet.)

You can do this with fairytales, too, like the story of Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood. You might decide to bring the stories into the modern world – or you might switch to a completely different genre, like a Western version of Little Red Riding Hood or a sci-fi version of Cinderella.

Hopefully, you’ll think of some interesting ways to present an old story in a new way – great practice for avoiding clichés and stereotypes in your own writing.

#6: Create a Found Poem from Your Spam Folder

A “found poem” is one created from text that already exists – and some writers enjoy repurposing spam emails for this!

Check your spam folder. I’m sure that, like mine, it’s full of emails with some strange wording and dubious promises like:

I did not need to find a winning product. he gave it to me…

Just drinking 1 cup of this delicious hot beverage in the morning sets you up to burn more fat than 45 exhausting minutes on the treadmill.

Hello %E-mail_address%, I know your very love Engineer Jobs and want have T-Shirt for Engineer Jobs.

It is vital to have a telephone system that has all the specific functions

(All of these are taken verbatim from my own spam folder…)

Could you pick out a few lines (they don’t have to be consecutive ones) to create your own found poem? Feel free to add some words if needed. There are some wonderfully odd examples here.

#7: Write Something Inspired By a Piece of Writing, Music or Art

Inspiration can come in all sorts of ways – but if you’re struggling to find an idea, try turning to other people’s creative works. In my blogging, I’ve often been inspired by other people’s post structures, by an idea of theirs that I want to take further – or even by something they’ve written that I disagree with.

You can use music and art in a similar way: they can be particularly potent sources of ideas for stories. If you have a favourite song or artist, what in their work speaks to you? How could you craft a story using some of those themes or thoughts? Alternatively, look through some photos of artworks, and choose one or more to use as the basis for a story.

#8: Interview Your Novel’s Characters

This is a fun exercise that a lot of writers use to dig into who their characters are: the character interview. You can work through a pre-set list of questions, or you can come up with your own in advance, or you can just start typing and go with the flow!

You might do this essentially like a character questionnaire or checklist, or you might want to write it more like a mini-story, with you as the author inviting your character to sit down and talk.

Depending on the sort of fiction you write, the setting for your interview could be almost anything – perhaps you’re enjoying a casual chat over coffee and cake with your character, or maybe you’re interviewing them as a journalist, or even in court. Or, if you’re into rather darker fiction, you might be conducting an interrogation…

However you do this, it’s a great exercise to have fun with, and you might discover a whole backstory to your character that you’d never thought about before.

#9: Use the Alphabet

This is a fun exercise that can work for almost any type of writing: craft a piece where each sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Here’s the start of one to show you what I mean:

At six o’clock, Josie woke up. Before she’d even opened her eyes, she knew what had woken her: she could hear it, just like she’d heard it every Friday morning for months. Cliff, her neighbour, was out in his garden. Despite all the times she’d gone round and asked him, through gritted teeth, to please wait until at least seven, he was mowing the blasted lawn again.

Excuse me!” she called, over the fence. For a moment, she thought he hadn’t heard her over the sound of the mower.

(Yes, it’s tricky once you get to X! You might find this list helpful, or you might choose to use a sentence-starting word that merely contains an X.)

#10: Write with a Sentence Length Limit in Place

Can you limit every sentence you write to ten words? (Or fewer!) This might be tricky. It’s a great exercise for bloggers and online marketers, though. Short snappy sentences and paragraphs work well online.

You might want to draft as normal, then edit ruthlessly. Or you could count the words as you type. Whatever works for you!

(Yes, the sentences in this section are ten words max…)

#11: Write Without Using Any Adverbs

This is a common exercise advised for fiction writers: write a whole scene without using a single adverb.

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They often (though not always) end with –ly.

Here are a few sentences with the adverbs indicated in bold:

The girl walked quickly to school. (“Quickly” is modifying the verb “walked”.)

Slowly, the fairly tall man stood.  (“Slowly” is modifying the verb “stood”, and “fairly” is modifying the adjective “tall”)

On the bus, the baby cried dismayingly loudly. (“Dismayingly” is modifying the adverb “loudly”, and “loudly” is modifying the verb “cried”.)

Writing without adverbs forces you to write crisper, clearer (and shorter!) sentences, which often have more impact. In particular, you’ll find yourself choosing stronger verbs.

All of these sentences could replace “The girl walked quickly to school” – and each has a slightly different nuance:

  • The girl strode to school.
  • The girl hurried to school.
  • The girl power-walked to school.

Of course, adverbs aren’t bad in themselves – so I don’t recommend avoiding them in all your writing! This exercise can help you, though, to be more aware of when you’re using adverbs unnecessarily.

Pick one of the above exercises to try out during your writing time this week. (If you’re feeling up for it, pick two and combine them – how about rewriting a classic without using any adverbs?) Have fun!

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How to Write About Ranges

How to Write About Ranges

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A range is, in written expression, the numerical difference between or among two or more values, or a pair of elements denoting the end points on, and perhaps one or more elements along, a continuum. Using sentences with errors in expressing ranges, this post discusses how to correctly do so in writing.

The school enrolls students in grades 9 – 12.

The correct treatment of a range numbers expressed in numerals is one number followed by an en dash (although some publications employ a hyphen) and another number, with no letter spaces: “The school enrolls students in grades 9–12.”

This style, with a numeral range, is correct even when a publication uses a style system in which references to numbers are usually spelled out if the number is one hundred or less. However, if the range is expressed with to (or through) instead of a dash, the numbers should, in that case, be spelled out: “The school enrolls students in grades nine to twelve.”

Operating hours are from 9 a.m.–10 p.m.

If from precedes the expression of a number range, to, rather than a dash, should intervene between the two values: “Operating hours are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.” (If a dash is preferred, delete from: “Operating hours are 9 a.m.–10 p.m.”)

Only a handful of school districts within a 30-40 mile radius rank among the top twenty-five school districts.

The solution for this example is not simply to replace the hyphen with a dash; the range must be recast as shown here: “Only a handful of school districts within a 30- to 40-mile radius rank among the top twenty-five school districts.” The expressed range is not “30–40”; it is “a 30-mile radius to 40-mile radius,” with the first value truncated to the number and a suspensive hyphenation. (This range can also be expressed “a radius of 30 to 40 miles.”)

Qualifying businesses are those with revenues of $10–$20 billion.

This sentence suggests that the low end of the range is $10, rather than $10 billion. Except in the case of suspensive hyphenation, values should be fully expressed: “Qualifying businesses are those with revenues of $10 billion–$20 billion.”

The sanctions impact the economy broadly, affecting business transactions ranging from the import of airplanes; the export of caviar, carpets, and pistachios; and the manufacturing of cars.

The sequence of phrases specifying trade and production of goods does not constitute a list; it is a range that includes three elements. From must be complemented by to, and the semicolons are extraneous and intrusive: “The sanctions impact the economy broadly, affecting business transactions ranging from the import of airplanes to the export of caviar, carpets, and pistachios and the manufacturing of cars.”

These range from restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system, to prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity, to restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity, to the exclusion from the U.S. of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.

Elements consisting of a sequence of phrases indicating a range and beginning with one element preceded by from and one or more subsequent elements preceded by to should not be interrupted by punctuation: “These sanctions range from restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system to prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity to restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity to the exclusion from the United States of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.”

If the sentence is not clear without punctuation, recast the sentence. In many cases, including the sentence used as an example here, the use of from and to as signifiers of a range is not necessary, as a given sequence may not necessarily indicate a range that implies priority of one phrase over another. (Here, the sequence does not explicitly express increasingly strict sanctions, though they may be inferred to be so.)

When this is true, simply revise the sentence to express a simple list: “These sanctions include restricting access for the sanctioned entity to the US financial system, prohibitions on investing in a sanctioned entity, restrictions on imports from the sanctioned entity, and the exclusion from the United States of controlling officers or controlling shareholders of a sanctioned entity.”

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List of 50 Compliments and Nice Things to Say!

List of 50 Compliments and Nice Things to Say!

Compliments

Too often I forget to do it. But when I’m pleased or impressed by someone, I need to make a point to write them a note. Some people are embarrassed by strong face-to-face compliments. After all, if a compliment isn’t heartfelt, it may seem mocking instead. But if you think they will be uncomfortable, you can always send your compliments about them to a third party. And if you preface your compliment with “I think you’re…” or “I’ve always liked how…,” it may be easier to accept. After all, they may say, you have a right to your opinion. But secretly, everyone likes specific praise.

Here are 50 compliments, so that when you say something good about someone else, you can say it more precisely.

  1. accomplished – for someone who has not only accomplished many things, but has accomplished them skillfully and with flair.
  2. admirable – worthy of admiration, someone who should be looked up to.
  3. adorable – for someone, often a child, who is cute and inspires affection and fondness, who seems worthy of love. Originally, worthy of worship, but rarely used in that sense.
  4. affable – for someone is friendly and a good conversationalist; easy to talk to, courteous and gracious.
  5. agreeable – for someone whose personality is suitable and pleasing to you. If they disagree with your ideas, they will do it tactfully and pleasantly.
  6. alluring – so attractive they are like a lure, tempting and enticing. Not a compliment to be given after a business lunch.
  7. amiable – pleasant and likable, kind and kind-hearted, sweet and gracious; literally “friendable,” since it comes from the French and Latin words for “friend,” which comes from the word for “love.”
  8. amusing – for someone who makes you laugh, though the word can easily sound condescending or patronizing.
  9. beautiful – for someone who is physically attractive (usually a woman is beautiful, a man is handsome), but can also describe aspects of a person: a beautiful spirit, a beautiful mind.
  10. bright – clever and intelligent, a quick learner. The word has a positive connotation: someone with a bright mind makes for pleasant company, which can’t be said for a smarty-pants or a know-it-all.
  11. charming – for someone with an attractive personality, as if they possess a magical charm that makes them likable.
  12. cheerful – optimistic and happy, whose pleasant attitude is either contagious or annoying (some people don’t want to be cheered up).
  13. commendable – worthy of commendation, praise, admiration and recognition.
  14. congenial – for someone with whom others enjoy spending time, who is sociable, affable, and fits in well.
  15. convivial – merry and cheerful, as at a community feast, which is the meaning of the Latin combination of “together” and “live.”
  16. cordial – warm, sincere, and affectionate. The Latin root means “of the heart.”
  17. diplomatic – tactful and courteous, who knows how to make peace and soothe offenses, like a good diplomat or ambassador.
  18. distinguished – celebrated for their accomplishments, who stands out above the crowd.
  19. elegant – graceful and refined, precise and restrained in style.
  20. eminent – for someone who stands out as remarkable and noteworthy in their field. Not to be confused with imminent.
  21. enchanting – for someone with an attractive personality, who delights others with their charm.
  22. engaging – interesting and appealing, who makes others want to be involved with him or her.
  23. enthusiastic – eager, even excited; fervent and zealous. Originally a religious term among the ancient Greeks.
  24. estimable – worthy of admiration and respect. You would get an idea of its meaning if you misspelled and mispronounced it as “esteemable.”
  25. fun – entertaining, amusing, and enjoyable. A compliment for those who help others laugh, not a compliment for those who are laughed at.
  26. genial – cheerful and friendly, from the Latin for “festive.” The word congenial adds the Latin prefix for “with.”
  27. gracious – for someone who doesn’t embarrass, who is always tactful, kind, and warmly courteous.
  28. graceful – for someone who isn’t embarrassed, who is elegant and natural.
  29. handsome – good-looking: usually an attractive man, but sometimes a striking and impressive woman.
  30. honorable – worthy of honor and respect, or who is honest and principled.
  31. inspiring – encouraging and energizing. Not as sentimental as the word inspirational so it’s more useful as a compliment.
  32. jolly – merry and cheerful. Famously used to describe Santa Claus.
  33. jovial – good-humored and outgoing, traditionally influenced by the planet Jupiter.
  34. kindly – gentle and affectionate, considerate and warm-hearted. Typical of grandparents.
  35. laudable – commendable and praiseworthy, someone who should be extolled and applauded.
  36. likable – easy to like, personable, endearing.
  37. masterful – skillful and proficient, a master of their craft, or sometimes a master of other people.
  38. pleasant – agreeable, pleasing, personable. One of the most general and innocuous words in this list.
  39. praiseworthy – commendable, admirable, meritorious.
  40. refined – cultured, elegant, polished, not vulgar, sometimes prissy.
  41. refreshing – invigorating, stimulating, vitalizing, pleasantly different.
  42. remarkable – notable, amazing, extraordinary. Worth writing down.
  43. reputable – respectable, well-regarded, with a good reputation. A reputable merchant will not cheat you, and others can confirm that fact.
  44. skillful – proficient, adept, talented, able, practiced.
  45. smart – clever, intelligent, shrewd, cultivated. An elegant person may be a smart dresser.
  46. solid – reliable, substantial, dependable. Solid people can be counted on, like a solid floor.
  47. sweet – kind, pleasant, thoughtful, not sour or bitter. A word much more common used by women.
  48. sympathetic – compassionate, friendly, especially when you’re troubled. From the Greek for “suffering together.”
  49. thoughtful – considerate, caring, attentive, solicitous. Because a thoughtful person thinks about you, they help you.
  50. worthy – deserving, having worth, principled, deserving, reputable.

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