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:
- involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny
- fantastic; bizarre
- 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.
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.
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.”
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.