story of a word.

Y’all, I’m not sure there’s anything I love more than etymology. I’m super stoked to dig into word histories with you today! I wouldn’t be doing it properly if I didn’t tell you about my favorite word resource. All the word histories in this post comes straight from the Online Etymological Dictionary. It has been a frequent resource of mine since my linguistics professor mentioned it in class the first time.

Why is this important? As I mentioned yesterday, God is still going to use you and your words regardless of whether or not you meet pundits’ exacting standards. (Note: you won’t, and neither will I, because language is fluid and therefore always changing. And pundits can’t agree anyway. Politics demonstrates that well enough!)

However, the more you know about language, the more skillfully you’ll be able to use it. Knowing where words come from and what roots and affixes they’re comprised of will help you decipher words you’re unfamiliar with, even without consulting a dictionary. A greater grasp is greater flexibility.

When I was a kid, I did gymnastics, and even if you’ve only ever watched it during the Olympics, you probably know gymnasts use chalk on their hands when they perform. It keeps your hands dry so you can grip the apparatuses firmly; if you don’t have a firm grip on the apparatus, you will not be able to execute your intended movement. Nastia Liukin can’t swing around the high bar like a winding spring unless she’s got a firm grip on it. Losing her grip would mean losing her ability to flex her body to swing around and over the bar. And so it is with language, which is the bedrock of human communication, written or otherwise.

We broke five words down yesterday into their roots and affixes. For the sake of simplicity and familiarity, I’m going to use the same words to break down etymologically:

Entered English in the late fourteenth century. From Latin expellere, “to drive out, to drive away”
Prefix: ex-, “out”
Root: pellere, “to drive”
Entered English in the early fifteenth century. From Latin incredibilis, “not to be believed”
Prefix: in-, “not”
Root/suffix: credibilis, “worthy to be believed,” from credere, “to believe”
Entered English in the late fourteenth century. (Presumably from Old English; related to Old Norse.)
Prefix: un-, “not”
Root: happy
Suffix: –ly, adverbial suffix
Entered English c. 1500
Root: serious, “expressing earnest purpose or thought,” from Middle French sérieux
Suffix: -ly, adverbial suffix
Entered English in 1856
Prefix: in-, “not”
Root: operate, “to be in effect,” from Latin either directly or via Middle French
Suffix: –able, suffix expressing ability, capacity, or fitness

What are some of your favorite words? Head over to the Online Etymological Dictionary, see where they come from and when they entered English, and come back to comment so I can learn with you. I’m giving away another $10 gift card to Starbucks if you do!

Here are three of mine:
confetti: Entered English in 1815, from Italian plural of confetto, “sweetmeat,” via Old French from Latin confectum, “a thing made”
tureen: Entered English in 1706, from French terrine, “earthen vessel,” from Old French therine, from Latin terrenus, “of the earth”
stoked: The verb to stoke entered English in the 1680s, coming from Dutch stoken, “to stoke,” from Middle Dutch stoken, “to poke or thrust.” Stoked as surfer slang, meaning “enthusiastic,” was recorded by 1963.


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words. what are words?


Words. What are words?

We know why they’re theologically significant and we know why they’re critical to choose with purpose. But what even is a word?

Take a minute to formulate a definition. How would you describe what a word is?

Here’s my definition (and in full disclosure, it took me about a week of thinking to come up with this): A word is a lexical unit representing a thing, concept, or idea.

Here’s what my second favorite word resource has to say about it:

a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. Words are composed of one or more morphemes and are either the smallest units susceptible of independent use or consist of two or three such units combined under certain linking conditions, as with the loss of primary accent that distinguishes blackbird from black bird. Words are usually separated by spaces in writing, and are distinguished phonologically, as by accent, in many languages.

Here’s a distilled version: A morpheme is the smallest unit of language and has an assigned meaning. So you remember your roots and affixes (suffixes, prefixes, and infixes)? Those are morphemes. Words are made up of one or more morphemes. Make sense?

You might be wondering why this is important. Will God still use you if you mix up your suffixes? Of course He will. But let me repeat what I said yesterday about worship: to worship at only part of our capacity is to shortchange Him the glory that is rightfully His. And when He calls us to a work and gives us a passion for a particular kind of worship, I think it’s critical we learn as much about it as we can so we can exercise it as best we’re able. The better we understand the science of language, the better we can execute the art.

Affixes are morphemes that can’t stand alone. They have to be attached to a root word to exist and have meaning. You’re probably familiar with the terms prefix and suffix, which refer to morphemes that attach to the beginning or the end of a root word respectively. (Rarely in English will you encounter an infix, which is attached in the middle of a word.)

There are two types of affixes: derivational and inflectional. Derivational affixes change the meaning of a word. Here are a few examples:


prefix: ex-
root: pel


prefix: in-
root: oper(ate)
suffix: -able

seriouslyroot: serious
suffix: -ly


prefix: un-
root: happ(y)
suffix: -ily

All but eight affixes in the entire English language are derivational. The other eight are inflectional and are all suffixes. I made you a virtual poster listing them all, plus examples:


Let’s take a quick review:

Morphemes are the smallest unit of language and have an assigned meaning. They can be roots or affixes.

Affixes are morphemes that cannot stand alone. They are prefixes (joined to the beginning), suffixes (joined to the end), or infixes (joined in the middle. These are rare in English).

Words are made up of one or more morphemes. The morphemes that make up the word determine its meaning.

Now that we know that, let’s put that knowledge to practical use! Comment with one of your favorite words and its breakdown into morphemes and you could enter to win $10 to Starbucks. Who wouldn’t enjoy an iced vanilla chai tea latte this week? My hand is raised high. I’m obviously not entering, but I broke down a word for you anyway:


prefix: in-
root: cred
suffix: -ible

PS. Nobody is grading you for accuracy here. I super love grammar, so I want you to love it! And if you walk away from here with a little more understanding, confidence, and love for it, I’ll be more than satisfied.

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Many thanks to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s page on morphemes for the more technical information found here.

the words we choose.

I don’t want to be a writer.

(Mhm. I said it.)

(And actually I spent a solid hour or more on Twitter scrolling through a Harry Potter account, mostly to avoid writing this post.)

Writing, after all, is hard. I have wrestled over the difficulty of that for some time now, and as I was mentally preparing this post in my head, I realized why.

The difficulty of writing is not in the act itself. It’s easy to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and write words. The difficulty in writing is the act of choosing the right words, of selecting the ones that will illuminate precisely the meaning of what you’re trying to communicate. The authors we love most, who create worlds for us beyond our understanding, are the ones who have practiced this to the point of mastery. (And even then, there is still so much to learn.)

So the battle for us as writers is not to master the imitation of those who have gone before. It is to master the precise art of selecting the right words. And I don’t mean “right” as opposed to “wrong,” but as opposed to “not the best.”

But why is mastering diction, or the art of choosing words, so important?

First, creation is an act of worship. We will never worship perfectly. But to worship God at only half of our ability is to rob Him of the glory that is rightfully His. He used words to create His best work and He called that good. He has only asked that we would do the same with the gifts He has given us, and for many of us, that means writing, speaking, or both.

Second, our words have the ability to bring people to Jesus or to push them away. When we resort to cliché and Christianese, when we say what is easy in lieu of what is true, we push them away. I mentioned in my Influence Network class on writing that even I, who believe firmly in Jesus, am pushed away from Him when I hear Christians say the happy thing instead of the true thing. You might feel the same way as I do in those instances, and in that case, you know well why it’s critical not to say what’s easy but to say what’s true.

So how do we figure out which words to use instead?

1. Acknowledge the emotions of others. This is hard for me because I am, admittedly, not a sympathetic person. I am, however, deeply empathetic. One of the hardest things for me to speak to is grief, but I have tried to find a way to do so anyway. I remember thinking, when people would share about heartrending situations, that my heart was breaking with theirs, but how on earth was I supposed to communicate that my heart felt ripped apart as well? And after a while, it occurred to me: I knew just how I felt, so that’s what I should say.

Another way to sit with people in the midst of their emotions is to think about what you would be doing with them in person (and even if you are face-to-face with the person in question, you can still do something like this). For celebration, you can say you’re so happy, you’re throwing confetti in their honor. For a trial of some sort, you can say you’re kneeling at the altar with them. Say figuratively what you might do literally, but either don’t have the ability or the opportunity to do with them. This is not untruth; this is metaphorically communicating to your people that you’re supporting them, in joy and in pain.

2. Draw a picture. You can tell me that you spilled a drop of coffee on the paper this morning or you can tell me a drop of coffee carved its way down an Egypt of newspaper. You can tell me social media makes you feel like you’re vicariously living or you can tell me it makes you feel like you’re shut up in a closet watching through a small pane of glass as everybody else lives their lives. You can tell me writing is emotionally hard or you can tell me it feels like you’re taking your heart apart under a microscope until you find one thin cell from which you can extract a few words that hopefully make sense. (Ask me how I feel about writing.)

Bring the emotion to life. You feel hurt? What does hurt look like to you? Feel like? Smell like? Blue and grey, suffocation, death.

What does joy look like? Feel like? Smell like? Confetti flying, heart bursting, crisp fall air.

And so on.

3. Use a thesaurus. When I can’t nail down the right word, either because there’s one I have in mind that I can’t recall or none of the ones I know quite nail down my meaning, I head to and put in the closest word I know. Sometimes it takes me a while to find something that fits, but I almost never come away dissatisfied.

4. Read. If you read books that challenge your reading comprehension, you’ll run into a plethora of words you didn’t know before. I constantly encounter words in books I’m unfamiliar with. I can sometimes discern the meaning through the word’s context, but sometimes I do bring up for a more precise definition.

In addition to expanding your vocabulary, reading books that challenge your comprehension means you’ll gain a greater understanding of the syntactic flexibility of the English language. By nature, good writers challenge the function and the structure of the language, so reading more of them will in turn shape and inform your ability to do the same. It also demonstrates an ability to keep language tight; we often use words without thinking of how liberally we dispense them, but reading writers who know how to rein in the length of their sentences will assist us, in turn, to do the same.

Do you have any tips for choosing the right words? In what areas are you most challenged to use exacting diction instead of saying what’s easy or quick?

in the beginning.


In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis 1:1-3, KJV


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-5, ESV


For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV


In the beginning, God chose how to begin finite space and time, and He chose words.

In the beginning, God chose how to communicate to His people throughout the ages, and He chose words again.

In the beginning, God knew you and I would use and love words, and I think it comes straight from Him.

A couple years ago, my friend Chelsea asked me to film a video for her youth group girls on modesty. I had a GREAT MANY THOUGHTS about it, but I decided to do something I had never known anyone else to do: go back to the beginning. So I read about and wrestled with Adam and Eve in the Garden, trying to understand what God was trying to communicate across the ages when He made garments out of animal skins.

As I did then, so I want to go back to the beginning now. God chooses, of all the methods He could, to speak. He meets His people for millennia by speaking with them. He takes on and walks among flesh, speaking. And then He ascends, leaving behind His disciples, who write to us. God chooses words. He chooses language.

James 3 tells us the tongue is “a fire, a world of unrighteousness… [N]o human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (vv. 6a, 8). Job, Psalms, and Proverbs are full of reminders that our mouths hold so much potential for evil. And yet, they hold so much potential for good. Because if God is the Word, it must innately be holy.

Words, too, are what we have corrupted with our sin. But words, too, are a place to see the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning, God chose words and spoke the world into existence. And in the beginning, He knew He would be the Word made flesh. His first words were to bring physical light into existence to banish the darkness. And His work on earth was to do the same spiritually. John 1:4 tells us life was in Him, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Dwell on that with me for a moment.

Darkness has not overcome the light. It never will. It actually can’t, because God’s word does not return empty. God’s word spoke light into existence and effected the death of darkness. God’s word speaks light into your existence and effects the death of the darkness in you.

All He asks of us in return is that we talk about it.

All He instructs us to do is tell the story of what He has done for us.

You think you aren’t good enough to tell your own story? Well, who else is going to tell it for you? Do you think the Samaritan woman had a lot of ground to stand on? “You have had five husbands,” Jesus told her, “and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). You think that sounds like qualification? And yet what does she do? SHE TALKS ABOUT JESUS. All she said was, “He told me all that I ever did” (v.39). And do you know what that testimony effects?!

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

Her testimony was eight words long.

If you had eight words to tell a town about Jesus, what eight words would you choose?

If all that’s standing between you silent and you speaking your testimony is fear you aren’t qualified enough, you’re right. But don’t you think Jesus in you is enough? Is He enough to save you but not enough to give you the words to talk about it? Is He enough to pierce your darkness but not enough to pierce darkness through you?

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14. I think He meant us to believe it.

So speak the words of Jesus, sister, and turn on the light. If you’re not sure where to start, can I suggest a few words? “In the beginning…”

you ARE a writer.

Welcome to the tenth installment of Speak Up! We’re so close to having made it a whole year, y’all. I’m so stoked you’ve been with Amber and me for all these months!

If you’re here from Write 31 Days, I’m stoked you’re here! Join me as we talk about writing and fear.

Be sure to head over to Amber’s to hear all her wise words about fear.

Have something to say about fear? Amber and I would love to hear it. Link your post below!

Also, for your reference, here are the resources I mentioned:
My grammar go-to girls, Kate and Betsy and

I also love this post by Kali Hawlk on owning who you are and what you do. And I recently discovered Merriam Webster on Twitter, which if you have any love of words or emoji, you can’t miss.

the writer in you

The writer in you is ____________.

If you filled in that word, what would it be?


Maybe the writer in you is terrified.

Maybe the writer in you is bold.

Maybe the writer in you is fresh, newly born.

Maybe the writer in you wants to throw stacks of papers at the walls. (Or perhaps drag a stack of MS Word docs into the trash bin on your desktop.)

Maybe the writer in you needs fresh vision, new life, movement in stagnant waters, the shock of cold winter air to revive your senses and renew your pen.


I know where you are.

I know where you are, because I have been there.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember and have wanted to be a published writer since I was 12. I wrote my way through high school and got my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature. Perhaps the craziest of all these things is I have wanted to learn to diagram sentences since I was about 8. (But we’ll put that aside and come back to it in a few weeks, mkay?)

It’s not easy to call yourself a writer when you’re putting words together between making a living or giving small children a living.

But there’s a writer in you nonetheless.


One day, the words will pour out of your soul so quickly your fingers won’t fly fast enough to catch them.

One day, the words will meet the people who needed to read them and it will be grace like an anvil to their faces.

One day, the words will flow only to heaven; ’twill be an act of worship.

One day, you will write the words you were born to write.


The writer in you is __________.

What did you put there?

Erase it.

I’ll tell you what we need to put there, what we need to remember:

The writer in you was created by God.

The writer in you is inspired by Him.

The writer in you is not going to be perfect, and that’s why we need Jesus.

The writer in you will testify to His goodness in your life. In fact,

the writer in you was born to write those words.

The writer in you is only getting started.

The writer in you is only done when God says. So,

is the writer in you ready for a month of writing?

The writer in me is.


over coffee.

Oh, there are so many things to tell you.

There are so many things to say after this month of blogging, and yet I feel near worn out. I have blogged more in this month than I might have done all year. It’s been exhilarating but also exhausting and I’m still doing 31 Days in October.

My friend Crystal Faye made this mug for this year’s Influence Conference swag bags!

I wish we were sitting at Starbucks right now. I would have my ubiquitous iced vanilla chai tea latte in hand and you would have your _________ (tell me what this would be in the comments!). You would ask me how I was and I would sigh, because I am not sure how to put together the words, except that I am, and the trouble is more I don’t want to be the kind of person who admits the things those words say.

I don’t want to admit that after weeks of thinking I was managing a workable schedule, I realized I was really dashing myself against a brick wall.

I don’t want to admit that I am not the person who can have a schedule that’s full to bursting. I’m too introverted; my body wears out too quickly. I learned this the hard way over the course of a week and half.

I don’t want to admit that I can’t do everything. I mean, I’m fine saying I can’t do literally everything. The everything I can’t stand to admit I can’t handle really means everything I feel is important. Or everything that will make me feel important. Mhm. That.

I don’t want to admit that words NF raps in his collaboration with tobyMac struck truer than I would have liked them to: “You only look to heaven when you goin’ through some drama.” Ahem. This is truth. Painful, searing truth.

I don’t want to admit that I told myself I am not allowed to make any plans this week. By that I mean I am not allowed to pen or pencil or Sharpie or imagine ANYTHING on my calendar, for any date, for any reason, at any time. Not this week. I’m going seven days without scheduling a thing, because I need to.

Not only have I chosen not to make any plans this week, but I’ve decided from now on I can choose to make plans on weeknights or I can choose to make plans on Saturday, but one of those options has to remain open every week. I don’t rest well when my weeknights and Saturdays are booked solid; it makes me cranky and it doesn’t give me space to recover my energy. Did y’all know I went 21 days without reading in September? I don’t mean not finishing a book. I mean not even cracking one open. Personally, that’s a disgrace; it’s how I know I haven’t made time to rest well.

I said this on Periscope last week and I’ll say it again: God is not pleased with our sacrifices of sanity and health on the altar of busy. I have fallen into the trap of believing constant plans equaled quality time spent in service, community, work, whatever. So I’m making the tough decision to say no to things so I can say yes to better things.

It’s going to take strength and courage, but a life worth living always does, no?

Brave Love Blog
It’s been a blast walking through the Blog-tember Challenge with y’all! Thanks for hanging out with me. I’d love to see you in October as I blog every day about writing! I’d love to take any questions you have so I can be sure the content I’m writing is applicable to you. You can drop them in the comments here or email me at

take ten.


Aaaaaaaand if you’re looking to talk about the last topic, Amber and I would be thrilled to have you join us THIS FRIDAY for Speak Up! We vlog the first Friday of every month and we’d love to have you contribute your voice.


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day in the life.

I always like reading day in the life posts, but I never actually enjoy writing them myself, mostly because in the last few years, my days have pretty much looked the same. I work Monday through Friday during normal business hours and I am always in roughly the same place. (Although that’ll be changing shortly as I move more fully into my new position!)

Jaws is our department mascot.

Here’s how today went:

Sometime between 5 & 530am • My eyes popped open. I got a lot of sleep this weekend which is the only reason I can account for wakening before my alarm went off.

530am • My first alarm goes off for the day.

6am • I’ve spent most of September getting up at this time. I’ve really enjoyed it! It gives me time to take mornings slow and makes it easier for me to mentally wake up for the day.

7am • This is the time I used to get up (and sometimes still do), or if I’m up earlier than this, this is the time I start getting ready for work. Today, this is the time I actually got up.

745 – 805am • I book it out the door. (Today I left at five to eight.)

By 845am • I get to work. Today I had time to stop for breakfast at Starbucks (a glazed doughnut and an iced vanilla chai tea latte. Delish!).

9 – 925am • I went upstairs to my new desk to set up my voicemail, email, and do a few other tasks. I had to be back downstairs in my old department by 930.

930am – 5:20pm • ALL THE WORK. Today I interspersed old department tasks with new department tasks. It was insanely crazy but also insanely productive. (I take my lunch anywhere from 1145am to 230pm. They’re 45 minutes long and I usually spend the majority of it reading, which is how I read as much as I do.)

520 – 550pm • Because sometimes work doesn’t wrap up as quickly as usual. Which it didn’t today.

550 – 630pm • My commute home. I took back roads and stopped at McDonald’s for dinner, which does not normally happen.

645 – 745pm • I ate and watched the series premiere of Quantico. Is anyone else watching it this fall?

It’s now 830pm and I’ve been on Twitter and Instagram since I finished watching Quantico. I’m going to write blog posts out for the next few days before calling it a night and going to bed!

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