And by weird I mean… yeah, weird

One of the questions I ask all my beautiful, intrepid creatives when I invite them over to Zebra Sounds to play with us as part of the Creativity Interview Series, is “What’s the weirdest thing that inspires you?” Their answers to that question are often my favorite parts of the interviews, not just because I love hearing about offbeat catalysts for genius, but also because the answers are so unique, so personal. By attaching the word “weird” to my question, I force my interviewees to dig a little deeper, to go beyond the first answer that pops into their mind when asked about what inspires them.

At the end of my last interview with painter-teacher-blogger Connie Hozvicka, I asked my commenters the same question, and I was surprised by how many of them reacted to the word “weird.” Fortunately, they didn’t let their discomfort stop them from answering, but it did make me pause. I even briefly considered changing the word but decided instead to add a few extra adjectives, in case “weird” had too negative a connotation for anyone.

But here’s the strange part. As negatively as the word struck many people, I felt just as strongly that it was the word I wanted, that “weird” didn’t mean bad, it meant unique. Different. As I wrote in the comments section, “I associate weirdness with a certain sort of daring, a willingness to not fit in.”

Of course, after the fact, I did look the word up. Here, according to Dictionary.com, is what “weird” means:

  1. involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny
  2. fantastic; bizarre
  3. Archaic. concerned with or controlling fate or destiny

Nothing inherently negative there, so I’ve concluded that “weird” is getting a bad rap, and I’ve decided to reclaim it. I’m declaring “weird” badass, and I intend to use it proudly. If we can do it for “freak” and “geek,” and “nerd,” we can do it for “weird.” And while I’m at it, I’m taking these words back too.

  1. Earnest.
    I read a fairly mean-spirited book review the other day in which the critic wrote (with disdain) that the author was oh so… earnest. (He even italicized it, to emphasize how not-good earnestness is.) I haven’t read the book. I don’t know if it’s good or not, but I admit that I’m kind of tired of cynicism and snark being valued more highly than sincerity. Writing (and living and loving) from the heart takes guts. I’ll take earnestness over hipster anytime.
  2. Nice
    Everyone hates the word nice. Even I recoil when someone describes me that way. It’s not because of the definition; I’ve got no problem being thought of as delightful. But people don’t use it like that. They use it like… well, earnest. Like it’s a putdown. I think the next time someone calls me “nice,” I’ll say, “If by nice you mean properly awed and unabashedly grateful, then yeah. I’m nice.”
  3. Namaste.
    I wrote “namaste” in an email to a friend recently and he told me that the word (when not used by “an actual Indian guru”) drives him nuts. It feels like an affectation to him, something people toss around to sound new age and yogi. But the truth is there is no English word that means, “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.” That’s a beautiful thing to say to someone, and when the urge to say it wells up in you, I’m thinking you should run with it. Critics be damned.

Okay, your turn. What words do you want to rescue from infamy? (Or redefine? Or make up, for that matter?) Let’s let our badass linguistic freak flags fly!

~~~~~

I’ve been making little changes to the site. Notice there’s a Get Inspired section on the right now. I’ll keep it updated, changing things out from time to time. When you’re feeling in need of inspiration (weird or otherwise), it’ll be here for you.

xo

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40 Responses to And by weird I mean… yeah, weird

  1. Taoist Soul August 9, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    I proudly personify and embrace the word ‘weird’. But I don’t care what you say, ‘namaste’ still makes me stabby! ;)

    • j August 9, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      Well, your stabbiness quells any desire that might have welled up in me to say it to you. So see? My advice still holds true!

  2. Keith August 9, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I’m going to reclaim the word ‘abacot.’

    • j August 9, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      I had to look that up. A ghost word! That’s so cool, I’m not sure we should reclaim it.

  3. Faith Squared (@Faith_Squared) August 9, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Made-up words are the best! My favorites: Exprayeriment (experiment + prayer); complexify (if you can “simply” something, I maintain that you should also be able to “complexify” things); and contemplication (when contemplation ends up complicating the matter that is the subject of the contemplation).

    And, I will admit to a certain affinity for the word “awesome” – even though, yes, it is over-used and we’re supposed to stop using it and blah, blah, blah.

    Words are so much fun…and so is this post! :-)

  4. j August 9, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    I’m with you on awesome. I like its real meaning and the more casual way it’s (over)used. Somewhere in the annals of ZS, I tried to make a case for awesome, but I think I was overruled.

    I LOVE your words. It’s like you made them up just for me. Exprayeriment lets me wish aloud for an absurdly unlikely outcome while simultaneously getting around my religious queasiness; complexify is seriously second nature to me; contemplication is where I live.

    I feel like a little kid. “Do some more, do some more!” :)

    • Faith Squared (@Faith_Squared) August 9, 2012 at 9:04 am #

      I will go back and look for that “awesome” post…I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to weigh in on that one. :-)

      We’re always making up words at Faith Squared, so I will keep you posted as our dictionary expands!

    • j August 9, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Just added you to my Google reader, baby. I won’t miss a word. :)

  5. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) August 9, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    I’m totally with you on “weird,” “earnest,” and “nice,” but I absolutely loathe the word “Namaste.” I can see your points, but I have to agree with your friend that it comes off as affectatious (also not a word, but should be) and fake. Personal taste, I suppose. But I’m sure you can pull it off. :)

    A word I would love to see fully taken back is “queer.” Not in reference to “gay,” although I like that too, but just as a slightly different type of “different” than “weird.” Know what I mean?

    • j August 9, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Yep, affectatious should totally be a word. (Why isn’t it?)

      For the record, I didn’t use “namaste” as a greeting or as a close. I said that I’d been feeling “all sort of namaste,” feeling the connection between myself and others more intensely lately. I can’t really imagine myself using the word lightly, like instead of “Hey there!” but I can see how if I did, it would be annoying.

      Queer. I like that the gay community has pretty much taken that word back and uses it with great pride. And yes, weirdly, I get what you mean about it being a slightly different version of weird. (See what I did there?)

  6. Tall Pajama Man August 9, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Hi J,
    While no new words come to mind yet, I applaud your taking back “weird”. As well as the rest, but I have a special affinity for “weird”. Partly cuz I like that it doesn’t follow the rules, and partly cuz I’ve always felt the fantastic in the weird. Mostly though, I think it’s because of your focus on being positive about expression, and for us who say little, what little expression we have is so important. So, if I want to say weird, or be weird, that should be my prerogative to rock it big (now there’s a work for you: prerogative. I love how it rolls off the tongue, and as Bobby Brown said, “it’s mine” :-) )

    • j August 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      Yes, I’ve felt the “fantastic” of weird as well, and also a bit of subversiveness, which, you know, appeals to me.

      Go forth, my friend, and rock the WEIRD!

  7. Terri August 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    “I admit that I’m kind of tired of cynicism and snark being valued more highly than sincerity. Writing (and living and loving) from the heart takes guts. I’ll take earnestness over hipster anytime.” Here, here! (I felt a breeze blow my hair back and brush my shoulders ever so gently upon reading this!)
    I’m with you in taking back “weird.” Personally, I’d like to retrieve “far out” … because it just sounds so un-hiply awestruck. While I’m at it, I’d prefer to get rid of “hip” altogether: (1. aware of or following the latest trends in music, ideas, fashion, etc.) It’s become a much-sought after word these days, and when things become much sought after … I tend to walk the other way.
    You’ve solidified it for me. Today, though my friends may recoil, I reclaim far out!

    • j August 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

      I’m reminded of your post which I have loved publicly more than once in which you advise artists to write to that teacher they had in the past who said the sky in their story/painting shouldn’t be red. Your defense of a red sky was just exactly how I feel about the word “weird.” May we all paint our skies EXACTLY how we want to! (And if our painting is inspired by watching the Three Stooges while doing yoga… far out!)

  8. Pam August 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    I have used the word “weird” exhaustively for as long as I’ve used any words. I expect to continue to do so. Are people who are taken aback by it a little too attached to the idea of “normal?” Maybe. I agree with the cocktail napkin: the only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.

    As for earnest, I have to separate from you a little on that. For me it has a certain savor of not-very-bright-but-trying-hard that may be admirable in certain contexts, but isn’t going to get you to brilliant work. I do not think earnest is the counterweight to snarky. (Maybe whole-heartedness is. To me that’s different than earnest.)

    I am an all-too-frequent user of archaic locutions (not just on the Scrabble board) so I say, let’s use everything!

    • j August 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Earnest doesn’t have that connotation for me. It’s synonymous with sincere, but the difference between our reactions is exactly what happened with “weird,” I’m actually glad you told me your problem with it because I was thinking that the “earnest” flack was all coming from people who are too cool to care, too hip to risk seeming hopeful or invested. At least now I’ll have a context for the derisive use of the word.

      I think the problem people had with weird wasn’t about a need to conform as much as it was about feeling judged. If “unique,” is the positive adjective, then weird would be its evil twin, uttered with disdain instead of admiration.

      It’s a connotation thing, definitely. And connotations aren’t definitions. There’s room for (freak) flag planting for sure.

  9. Mark August 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    I’ve described myself as either “weird” or “embracing my inner weirdo” for so long now, it’s almost a cliche for me. Because I define by context and vocal inflection to mean any of a dozen things. I also no longer care if people think I’m weird, strange or too different. Life is too short to get hung up on that sort of drivel.

    And I’d love to see drivel, dreck, doldrums and Pshaw make serious comebacks. You should also consider allowing me to interview you for my occasional blog series…

    • j August 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      I’m good with all your choices. And skullduggery. We definitely need to use skullduggery more. Send me an email (zebrasoundsj at gmail.com) on the interview. I love considering occasional things.

  10. Joanne Marie Firth August 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    What an excellent post. I’m a big fan of weird, all things weird and weirdness in general. I love dancing to the rhythm of a different drummer. I abhor boring with a passion. If being weird means being different and unique then bring on all weirdness you’ve got.

    I love words and am trying to think of some to add here. …………..thinking……………..thinking…………still thinking………..
    I kind of love “fanfuckingtasic” and “absofuckinglutely” , though they can not be found in the dictionary, they certainly get the point across in a colorful, weird kind of way.

    I didn’t take the word “weird” as negative in your original interview post. That must mean something. Let me think some more and I’ll be back around.

    • j August 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Excellent words – the super versions of fantastic and absolutely, for when you really, really mean it. :) Did you see “expraryeriment” from Faith Squared? I totally love that. I used it today (and did it too).

  11. cjpatton August 11, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I’d rather be weird than “normal” any day. And you ARE nice, j :)

    • j August 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

      Ha! Thanks, Cynthia. So are you!

  12. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) August 12, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I know I do wordplay of this sort, but absolutely zero came to mind when you asked the question. So I went away and forgot about it . . . and sure enough something popped up loooong after I stopped trying to think of an example.

    (Ha. It only took me three days.)

    In emails where the topic is about being busy I like to write it as “bizzy.” Even if the person at the other end just thinks I’m a bad speller it’s my way of putting a little code word in there to remind myself (and maybe them, if they notice) that we can trick the busyness just by pretending it’s silly. And then we can break out and do something magical, like the way you went wholeheartedly for Jill’s birthday instead of your To-Do list.

    • j August 12, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      I wondered why some of my wordy friends didn’t respond. Maybe it’s like walking into a music store (in the old days, when we all walked into music stores, remember?) and forgetting every artist you ever loved.

      I love the impetus for “bizzy.” It will definitely be a reminder to me now if ever you use it in an email. It’s like we have a not-so-secret handshake! xo

    • Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) August 12, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      “. . . a not-so-secret handshake.” Eeee, that gives me a fun idea.

      And looong after you’ve forgotten I said that, I’ll unveil my idea. LOL!

    • j August 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      I LOVE how easy you are to inspire! xo

  13. kayellewelyn August 13, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    ok so weird is good in my books
    and I like lairy for that splash of color and verve and dare
    and I like snazzy for those shiny red shoes
    and I love the idea of reclaiming from the hip and cynical ;)
    smiley faces too :) as daggy (australian slang) as they are
    they mean what I mean

    and that’s – Namaste
    too!!!

    • j August 14, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      I had to look up lairy, and I’ve never heard it used, but it’s a good word. I may have to work it into a conversation today. And daggy too, for that matter – as in, do these jeans make my butt look daggy? Which, you know, almost works. :)

      • kayellewelyn August 15, 2012 at 1:23 am #

        uh oh, better watch that daggy and butt in the same sentence – did you look that one up? – apart from affectionately unfashionable … it literally is from the dags – the dung-caked wool round back of the sheep ;)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dag_%28subculture%29

    • j August 15, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      Phew! Good thing I forgot to to use it!

  14. Tricia August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    My daughter calls me weird aprox 4 jillion times a day. I think she means it in a good way, though. As for words, I’d like to see nice bad words make a comeback. Like dagnabbit, shoot fire, gosh darn, and dangit.

    • j August 18, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Shoot fire? That totally sounds like something the Tasmanian Devil would say. Please use it in a sentence because i want to adopt it immediately and I don’t want to misuse it. (And when your daughter calls you weird, you think badass. It’s definitely a compliment!)

  15. Tricia August 18, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Southern colloquialisms brought about many of our useful slang. “Shoot” is the morphed word from “Shoot fire”. In order not to misuse it in writing, one must end the sentence in an exclamation point, e.g., “Shoot fire, my shoes don’t match!” (not that that ever happened to me, of course).

    Never fear when it comes to misusing an Okie expression. We’ll just adopt it and use it ourselves. That’s how we roll. I, for one, thought my dad was yelling “Shoot far!” most my life. I therefore, when angry or upset, would blurt, “Shoot far, wore my pants inside out!” (not that that ever happended to me, of course).

    btw, for variety mix it up. Dang blast is a good stand in for “shoot”. Okies like to swear with explosions. Make it up. I just made up “shit pop” and am going to use it at once.

  16. Clare Flourish August 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Weird, yeah. One of my reclaimed words, “Search for the Weirdo inside yourself”. OTOH, I like “Nice” as a putdown. As a precise word, as in “nice distinction”, but also as a meaningless, damn with faint praise word. I need all sorts of gradations between Gorgeous and Damnable, and “Nice” fits in there just beautifully.

    • j August 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      Ha! Okay, don’t call me nice. (Gorgeous is okay though.)

  17. Clare Flourish August 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    And on weird:

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

    • j August 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      LOVE.

  18. nessa1313 June 14, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    I do like being called weird. I think nice is an insult. I have an issue with the word issue (problem.) Oh, and I want people to use the real curse word when they are cursing. They are just specific use words, after all. Saying Fudge seems like such a cop out to me.

    Flash 55 – The Accidental Gardener

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