Over 400,000 people across the world are exposed to a new word, every day, thanks to Indian American author/columnist Anu Garg, who is the founder of Wordsmith.org, which has been sending out the daily A.Word.A.Day email for the last 25 years.
With the free subscription, the recipients, who are based in 171 countries, not only receive the word but also its definition, its etymology and pronunciation, and a quote showing its usage.
Every week, Garg zeroes in on a theme/concept and sends out words associated with it. On June 19, the word of the day was ‘philippize.’ The theme for that week was ‘people with multiple eponyms coined after them.’ His website Wordsmith.org also includes the Internet Anagram Server, the Pangram Finder, and the Wordserver, which offers a set of reference services using email, among other services.
Garg was a computer science graduate in Ohio in the early ‘90s when the World Wide Web came along. He decided to seize the opportunity to spread the word (no pun intended), not fully knowing how it would pan out.
“I thought it would be a great way for me to share my love of words with others. I spoke to my fellow graduate students about it and there was no grand plan; just something to experiment with,” Garg told India-West. “Soon I found that I was getting requests to subscribe to this email from students in my department, from other departments and then from other schools, and corporations and so on. And that’s when I realized the universal appeal of words.”
What was meant to be a fun little activity on the side turned into something so spectacular over the years that Garg quit his cushy corporate job and turned to the world of words full-time. And even though it’s no child’s play to continue to churn out different words consistently, Garg quipped, “It’s more than a full-time job but it doesn’t feel like one because I enjoy it so much.”
“Every morning, I can’t wait to wake up and explore words, write about them and share them with others,” he told India-West. “The email goes out every night and when I wake up in the morning, there’s a whole bunch of replies waiting for me. People share their stories about words. Some funny, some touching and I feel privileged to share this with people across the world.”
The bonding between Garg and his subscribers, and the need for their daily dose of words, has become so strong, he added, that if they, for any technical reason, are unable to receive the email, they write to him asking, “Where is my email? I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.”
“Words are like air. They are everywhere except they are not tangible but they are just as important. We can’t do without them no matter what profession you are in,” noted Garg.
The Seattle, Washington-based, Garg, who has written three best-selling books on words, now has a five-member team assisting him in his endeavor. They manage various tasks like maintaining the website’s social media presence, graphic designing, editing, etc.
“When you have so many readers, then you have to take care of everything like a little comma,” Garg said, adding that he continues to select the word of the day.
His first word was ‘zephyr,’ which he picked on March 14, 1994. Since then, they have featured over 5,600 words and sent out 3.6 billion emails. Garg said though he picks the word, he feels it’s the word that invites him to it.
The process of selecting the word involves a lot of research and exploring various languages. Some days he chooses a word coined after a place or from a particular language; other days, he has a particular topic in mind and then he looks out for words on that theme. Sometimes, he said, he comes across a word and tries to find other examples of a word like that.
There is no dearth of words, said Garg, adding he would need to “take several births” to write about all of them.
“There are more than half a million words in the English language,” Garg, whose parents live in Mumbai, told India-West. “English has borrowed hundreds of words from Hindi and from other Indian languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi and so on. We have also borrowed words from English in Hindi and other languages also.”
In his words, Garg knows “3.2 languages.”
“If you speak English, you could say you speak more than hundred languages, at least partially,” he said. “I study other languages. After English and Hindi, I know Spanish, a little bit of French. I have also studied many other languages like German, Italian, Latin and so on. The problem with language is, use it or lose it, and you don’t get many opportunities to converse in other languages except Spanish.”
Garg told India-West that his way of looking at words and language has evolved over the years, and he has learned to look past word purity unless he is confused by someone’s statement.
“If I can understand the other person as to what they are trying to say, then the language has done its job,” Garg noted. “Language is about communicating to understand what somebody wants to say and to be able to be understood. As long as that is happening, I don’t see anything as wrong or right…The essence of language is about getting through to the other person.”
Further expounding on it, Garg said, “If someone says, ‘Hopefully, it wouldn’t rain today. Some people will say, ‘Hopefully is wrong here and it should be, I’m hoping it wouldn’t rain today.’ But I don’t think anybody would be confused with the first sentence.”
Another example Garg gave was choosing between the words enormity and enormous.
“Enormous means huge and enormity means something really bad such as the enormity of the holocaust. Some people use the word enormity to imply enormous, like the enormity of masses at this rally was astounding,” Garg explained. “Again, when you read the sentence, it’s very clear what they mean is that there were lot of people.”
Garg noted that language keeps evolving and words change over time. What is considered right today was wrong 50 or 200 years ago, he told India-West.
“When some people pronounce ‘ask’ as ‘aks,’ some people might say they are ignorant or uneducated, but that’s how the word was earlier. The letters got flipped. And now we have ‘ask,’” explained Garg. “Who is to say what is wrong and what is right?”
Garg commenced this exciting journey to share his love of words with people but over the course of this journey, realized that words aren’t simply words; they work as binders.
“This is my way of sharing the beauty and magic of words with people. But I have realized that writing about words has a higher purpose,” Garg told India-West. “Language shows our common humanity. Today, we have different languages. But if you go back 5,000 years ago, you’ll see different languages like English, Hindi, French, Persian, German, Norwegian …came from the same parent language and we call that Proto-Indo-European now, and so that’s why we have words like Rex for king in Latin, Raja in Hindi, etc.”
With so much division and hatred going on in the world, his ultimate purpose, he said, is to highlight that “language shows that we are children of the same parent.”
“Now we live in different places, we follow different religions, we have different skin tones but ultimately, it shows that we came from the same root,” Garg said.
According to Garg, here are some of the English words borrowed from Indian languages:
From Sanskrit: atman, lingam, orange, pundit, sutra, swami, vedic.
Hindi: avatar, bangle, cheetah, cummerbund, cushy, dacoit, dinghy, guru, juggernaut, jungle, karma, mynah, pajamas, nirvana, shampoo, thug, veranda, zamindar.
Malayalam: mango, teak.
Tamil: catamaran, cheroot, coolie, curry, mulligatawny, pariah .
Bengali: jute, taka.
Telugu: bandicoot, godown.
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