Words, Words, Words! Introducing Claxon’s “Word of the Month”

At Claxon, we embrace our word nerdery proudly. That’s because, like you, we know the importance of choosing the right words. One word can mean the difference between getting noticed and getting overlooked.

We love words so much, we create tools and resources such as The Wordifier so nonprofits can make their messaging remarkable.

We also love diving deep into a particular word to find out its history, its evolution, and its level of remarkable-ness. And we love sharing what we’ve uncovered so that you can make informed word choices for your cause.

That’s why we’re launching a Word of the Month series!

Each month, we’ll choose a word that’s commonly found in nonprofit communications, or a word we feel is underutilized by nonprofits. We’ll explain where the word comes from, how often it’s used, and what to watch for when determining whether or not to use it in your communications.

To kick off this series, we’re starting with the one word I’ve used more than any other in this post thus far. We’re getting a little silly, as well as a little meta. Have a guess?

This month’s word is “word”.

Before beginning to research the word “word”, I made the assumption that its origins would date back pretty far. As soon as we started having elements of speech to describe objects, actions, and ideas, it would follow naturally that we have a way to describe these speech elements themselves, right?

Yep. Turns out, the word “word” has been in use since basically the dawn of the English language, when “Old English” was spoken. It’s from the Proto-Germanic “wurdan”. (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what Proto-Germanic was either.)

Here’s the coolest thing I found out: In its original Old English, it also had an additional implication: a promise. There’s something beautiful, if not a bit intimidating, about a word being a promise. (Maybe this is where the phrase “as good as your word” stems from?)

There are many variations on “word” that arose much more recently. “Wordsmith”, for example, popped up in 1896, and “buzzword” came around in 1946, thought to be originated from Harvard students’ slang for the most important words in their lectures or readings.

And unlike a lot of other words whose popularity ebbs and flows over time, “word” has stayed pretty consistent in its frequency of use. No surprise there!

Even though this month’s Word of the Month is more of a playful announcement than a word your nonprofit actually needs to be conscious of, we decided to run it through The Wordifer to see what would happen.

Turns out, a majority of uses of this word are from religious organizations. This totally makes sense. (Think: “The Word of God”).

Thanks for joining us in having a bit of fun with the word “word”! Check in next month when we explore a word that can either boost your nonprofit messaging’s remarkable-ness, or bring you down to the land of the overlooked.

Conjunction Junction & the All-Powerful ‘And’

Language Lab podcast, free tools, nonprofits, language, words, messagingSmall words matter. They can be oh so powerful. Yet they bounce off of our lips so quickly that you hardly notice them. But notice them you should!

Take for example the humble ‘and’. How many times in a day do you use it? How about ‘but’? Both have three letters. Both have two consonants and one vowel. Both are used primarily as conjunctions. And that’s where the similarities end.

And brings people, things, thoughts, ideas together. But pushes them apart. And is packed with positivity. But drips with negativity.

Take three minutes and contemplate the All-Powerful And with me in this week’s Language Lab podcast.

[If you’re like me, you totally want to listen to Conjunction Junction right about now…here you go.]

And for those of you who like to read your poetry, rather than listen to it, here is the excerpt from Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now that inspired this week’s podcast. (Many thanks to Julie Lombardo for sending this my way!)

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both-and
“And” keeps us from either-or
“And” teaches us to be patient and long-suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” keeps us from dualistic thinking
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our action is also contemplative
“And” heals our racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism
“And” keeps us from the false choice of liberal or conservative
“And” allows us to critique both sides of things
“And” allows us to enjoy both sides of things
“And” is far beyond anyone nation or political party
“And” helps us face and accept our own dark side
“And” allows us to ask for forgiveness and to apologize
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible
“And” does not trust love if it is not also justice
“And” does not trust justice if it is not also love
“And” is far beyond my religion versus your religion
“And” allows us to be both distinct and yet united
“And” is the very Mystery of Trinity

Words that make you look dumb: alot

AlotNoALotWhether a word is “good” or not is largely a matter of opinion. For instance, I think ‘awesome’ is awesome and others beg to differ. Some people and organizations (cough, Microsoft, cough) love acronyms while others take umbrage with them.

But there is one word that is categorically a bad word–alot.

Want to know why it’s villainous? Because it makes you look dumb. Because it doesn’t exist! Nope, sure doesn’t. All is explained in this wee podcast.


Sure, when you say “alot”, no one knows you’ve mushed two words together. But you know whether, in your mind’s eye, you’re saying a non-word. For shame!

Absolutely, positively don’t write it. Ever. Please. Not even to be funny, cute or clever. Use a hashtag instead. #CuzNothingSaysClevahLikeAHashtag

**You can listen to podcasts on words like joy, gratitude, disappointment and funsies in the Language Lab Library.**

Really? Really.

This is the latest post from our word-nerd-erific inter, Vicki

Really? Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Sky, Clouds and Sunburst.

I have a love hate relationship with the word really. There are times when it is great.

Thank you very much.
Thank you, really.

Both sentences use an intensifier on “thank you” but the sentence with “really” feels more, well, real. I like that the thing it is highlighting is the authenticity of the sentence. There are many times when really is a fabulous word choice, but I have two issues it.

First, I over use it. Grossly. I annoy myself with how often I say “really.” To deal with this problem I search for every instance of the word really when editing and make sure it needs to be there. It’s at the top of my editing checklist.

The other issue I have is something I learned while editing it out. Really, like other intensifiers, often hides vagueness. As the term implies, we use intensifiers when we want to make a statement more (you guessed it) intense.  However, if the statement needs more intensity, it deserves more than just an extra word slapped on. In these instances, figure out why you need to make your words intense. Is there a more specific word or do you need to elaborate?  I’m all for parsimony, but sometimes you need a few more words to make your point.

Let’s revisit our example from above and look at the term “Thank you.” Imagine you’re thanking a new volunteer at your organization’s soup kitchen.

Thank you. We were able to feed fifty more people because you helped today. The kindness and patience you gave our clients show that you share the values that motivate us all in this work. I know Penny appreciated your help with that tray.  She hesitates to ask so it was sweet of you to jump in and offer assistance.

There are no intensifiers in that version, but it has a stronger impact because I’m showing the connection to the mission and core values as well as giving some personal detail.

Look for places where you are using intensifiers in your own writing. How many can you replace by being more specific?

Looking for more tips on “Thank you?” Erica has a few posts on the topic. This one is my favorite.

Thinking of creating your own list of things to check for when editing? You may enjoy Tessa’s post on editing checklists.

Let’s Talk About Love (and Philanthropy)

I have to jump on the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and dedicate this week’s post to love.

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You might be wondering what love has to do with your organization. In a few weeks, in our #WordsThatWow series, I’ll post about how using more words of love and gratitude can help your organization in a big way. But today, I want to focus on the language of love.

Love, as it exists in the English language, has the habit of causing some confusion. This is because it covers a wide range of feelings and emotions. You can use the same word to indicate a type of toothpaste you prefer as you would to describe how you feel about the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Something about that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t you think? And don’t get me started on the confusion it causes in relationships. We’ve gone so far as having to distinguish between “love” and “being in love”. But even that means different things to different people.

The ancient Greeks knew better than to have one word to describe such a range of things. They had at least four separate words to describe different types of love: Spiritual love (agápe), physical love (éros), familial love (storgē), and mental love (philía). Philía is often translated into English as brotherly love or friendship. If this word sounds familiar to you, I’m not surprised. Ever wonder why Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love”? Philía is the root of many other words we use today: Philosophy (love of knowledge), philology (love of learning), and basically any word that ends in –phila or –phile (bibliophile, Anglophile, etc.)

My favorite philía word, however, is philanthropy (love of mankind). If you are part of a philanthropic organization, this may resonate with you as well. We are doing what we are doing because of a love of mankind. When someone makes a donation to our organization, it is because of a love of mankind. We want to make the world a better place because of a love of mankind. And that’s something to keep in mind not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day.

Happy loving, everyone!