First, Last, Best, Worst
Words for story prompts
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock.” A newsletter for word nerds.
Longtime readers of this newsletter will know that I like to stick to a single topic each week that pervades both the main Timeless & Timely newsletter and the weekend “Off the Clock” entry.
Since “Off the Clock” concerns itself with words and since this week’s theme was storytelling, that means that today I had to come up with words about words about words.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
One of the tricks for storytellers who are stumped for story ideas comes from Matthew Dicks in his excellent book Storyworthy.
The formula is: first, last, best, worst.
He suggests writing prompts along a left column — things like kiss, car, job, travel, shirt, etc. And then one column each for first, last, best and worst. That provides the formula to create stories of each of these instances: your first/last/best/worst kiss, car, job, etc.
So let’s take that approach to words today.
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The first word in the dictionary is invariably aardvark, a large burrowing nocturnal mammal (Orycteropus afer) of sub-Saharan Africa that has a long snout, extensible tongue, powerful claws, large ears, and heavy tail and feeds especially on termites and ants. First used in 1922.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering about the difference between an aardvark and an anteater: the anteater has a longer tongue and is generally found in Central and South America.
And since it’s Saturday, here’s an old Saturday morning favorite: The Ant and the Aardvark, featuring John Byner doing impressions of Dean Martin (the ant) and Jackie Mason (the aardvark).
The last word in the dictionary is a little less common than the first. Zyzzyva is a South American insect (a weevil, in fact) found on or near palm trees. It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.
Now, finding the best word is a rather subjective exercise. Part of the formula must include how pleasant the word is to say and to hear, as well the meaning of the word.
Does it produce an idyllic or euphoric effect (both candidates)? Perhaps it causes us to wish for solitude and tranquility (two other choices).
I’ve seen a number of lists in which top contenders contain the letter Q, such as sequoia or quadrivium.
My ears and bibliophilic sensibilities prefer vellichor, though. That’s the feeling of calm or magic when you enter a used book store.
Can’t you just smell it now?
Again we enter the realm of opinion, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say a word that brings joy to no one is a Wordle solution that nearly brought down the internet last month: moist.
And now, my fellow word nerds and storytellers, I ask you this: looking through those first, last, best, and worst words, can you come up with a story about each of them?
And no Jackie Mason / Dean Martin impressions.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
Vellichor — ooh, that's a keeper!