I probably should’ve warned you all by now: I am a word nerd. The lady who takes a shopping bag to the library? That’s me. The person who can only play Scattergories with a group once before being banned for life and having to find new people to play with? Me. The kid who was in spelling bees and milked the Book-It program for all it was worth, and who did all the read-a-thons she could find and who always won the “how many words can you make from ____?” contests in class? Me, me, me, and me.
I was the president of my high school writing club. I was the executive editor of the literary magazine. I helped co-found a monthly broadside series, which, I have recently learned, is still being published (which cracks me up–we totally did that on a lark). I was on the quiz bowl team, and my specialty was All Things Language-Related–all the literature questions, the foreign language questions, those were all mine.
So it’s probably not the most startling revelation in the history of the universe to learn that my degree is a B.A. in English, with a minor in Linguistics. I’m that person.
But really, there are ways in which this has been a helpful sort of personality quirk to have, aside from an ability to Boggle shark unsuspecting friends. And the one that’s on my mind today is Reframing–taking a thought, doing a little verbal manipulation, and transforming it into something more desirable, more helpful, more useful.
Sometimes the change is as easy as adding a word or two, and maybe test-driving some synonyms:
“I can’t run a 5k” –> “I can’t run a 5k…yet”.
“I don’t understand the information on labels” –> “I don’t currently have a strong grasp on the information on labels”.
“I am less than useless in the zombiepocalypse” –> “I am not currently fully prepared for the zombiepocalypse, but this can change”.
A slightly more labor-intensive version involves what I think of as “examining the other side of the coin”, aka “flagrant abuse of antonyms”:
“I can’t go horseback riding, because it’s just mean to break the poor horsie’s back” –> “Someday I will reach a weight where I feel comfortable going horseback riding without fear that the horse’s next stop will be the glue factory”.
“I can’t eat anything that tastes good” –> “I get the chance to explore different foods and find new favorites that aren’t quite as fatty/rich/sugary/etc as the things I have been eating until now”.
“Exercise hurts and being sweaty is gross” –> “The more my body becomes used to these new movements, the less pain I will experience; and I will reward my efforts by buying fancy shower products so I can wash away the stink in a perfumed cloud of expensive soaps and hair stuff that will make me look like a supermodel”.
And sometimes the reframing just calls for pulling out all the verbal stops, and doing some linguistic gymnastics to get you from Point A to Point Triangle:
“I could never be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, because I am fat and can’t dance” –> “One of these days I will roll into Texas and audition for the squad, knowing full well that I won’t make it because I don’t have 20 years of dance training like most of these gals, but boy howdy will it be fun to stand up in front of a room full of toned and attractive young things and introduce myself by saying ‘Hi! I’m [state your name], and I apologize for wasting your time–I know I’m not going to be what you’re looking for, and I’m ok with that. But auditioning has been one of my goals for a while now, because I used to weigh 350 pounds and through hard work and effort, I lost the equivalent of an entire human being. So I am here today to audition just because I can; it’s a door that was closed to me before, and now the option at least exists, even if I don’t really have the skill set to take full advantage of the opportunity. Thank you for indulging me'”. (Oh, quit looking scandalized. I already confessed to watching America’s Next Top Model; you didn’t really think that was the only vapid show I use for ice cream pig-outs, did you? *grin*)
Granted, all of this is a skill which, like any other, requires some practice. And as we’ve discussed previously, my inner demons also have a fully developed arsenal of cleverly phrased insults that they’re poised and ready to fling my way at a moment’s notice–they went to college right alongside me, so they also read all the Shakespeare and learned all the fun ways to describe one’s failures in Elizabethan English.
But with a bit of time and effort, it is, in fact, possible to revise the way you think, or at least revise the responses you have to the voices in your head. Language is an amazing and powerful tool, and, like any other tool, a little creativity can help you find nifty new uses you hadn’t previously imagined.
Case in point: “GHOTI”. (Betcha thought I wasn’t going to explain today’s title.) This is one of those fun language tricks that you can trot out at extremely nerdy parties: you write “GHOTI” on a piece of paper, and ask people to pronounce it. Most folks will say “Goat-Ee” or something similar, but the answer is actually “FISH”: the “gh” is pronounced like the “gh” in “tough”; the “o” is pronounced like the “o” in “women”; and the “ti” is pronounced like the “ti” in “nation”…so “f”, “ih”, and “sh”. “Fish”.
It’s just a matter of reframing the way you look at things…and it’s as easy as shooting ghoti in a barrel.