[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 18TH NOVEMBER 2009 BY RED C MAGAZINE]
I like words. They happify me. In fact, they make me tripudiate with joy. I’m one of those people who take far more pleasure in hearing about a crepuscular splodge than actually seeing one; and would much rather read about a spelunking scrimshanker than go and cheer him on. I get a kick out of the English language and, at the risk of being philodoxical, I think everybody should. Language may be fundamentally a means of communication, in the way that food is fundamentally a means of nutrition, but both offer pleasure far beyond their function. Words should be savoured like a sumptuous steak.
Of course, when I try to convince my chums about the myriad delights of mellifluous language, they call me a ponce. Well, until a few weeks back. All of a sudden, they’re casually dropping obscure words into every conversation. It’s frippet this and proprioception that. And while I love to think it’s down to my strategic nagging, I’m afraid it isn’t. They still think I’m a ponce. But they’ve become huge fans of this website called Wordle.
Wordle describes itself as “a toy for generating word clouds from text you provide”. In short, it takes a lump of text and arranges the words according to how often they appear, using size to directly represent frequency. The word cloud above, for example, comes from Art Director Nick Cliffe’s previous post on Robert Frank’s The Americans. Which explains the big ‘Americans’.
But back to my point. Why have my mates become obsessed with this website? Well, the answer’s really very simple: competition. Three of my friends are regular bloggers – one because he lives abroad, one because he works with computers and one because he’s egocentric – and a few weeks ago they decided to have a wager. A cool £20 to the person who fills their blog posts with the most unusual words by Christmas, with the catch that no reader must notice and pass comment. Wordle has become the impartial adjudicator.
The fact is, though, that they originally fell in love with the website for its interactivity. You can play around with fonts, layouts and colour schemes to your heart’s content, allowing you to create your own unique work of art from your own unique words. And that’s why I think it’s great. Wordle brings the joy of words to non-logophiles in an exciting and engaging way. In the last few weeks alone, the website has helped to improve my friends’ vocabulary, has encouraged them to be more creative in expressing themselves and has made them associate poetic language with art. Wordle has taken three ordinary blokes and turned them into fully-fledged ponces. And do you know how that makes me feel?