The Pied Piper of Words

Manila Bulletin, March 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Pied Piper of Words


Byline: SUSAN A. DE GUZMAN

ANU Garg is never at a loss for words. In fact, the Indian-born and now US-based logophile has been dispensing them through his website www.wordsmith.org. The site offers an on-line dictionary and thesaurus, an "anagramizer" (key in your name and learn what else can be spelled out from the combination of letters) and perhaps the most popular feature of allA Word a Day.

"The music and magic of words thats what A Word A Day (AWAD) is all about," Garg sums up on his website. AWAD is a daily electronic publication from the wordserver at wordsmith.org. It includes a vocabulary word, its definition, pronunciation information with audio clip, etymology, usage example, quotation, and other interesting tidbits about words sent to subscribers every day. Words are usually selected around a theme every week.

"You can think of it as a word trek where we explore strange new words," Garg says of his brainchild which, incidentally, is celebrating its tenth anniversary on March 14.

AWAD claims to have more than 570,000 subscribers in 201 countries. And this number is said to include only those who get it directly from wordsmith.org. It doesnt count the people who get AWAD via mail exploders, local Usenet newsgroups, www pages and other bulletin board systems.

I myself only discovered AWAD recently from a profile story on Anu Garg in an old issue of Smithsonian magazine. My curiosity sufficiently piqued, I logged on to wordsmith.org to see what the fuss was all about. I signed up for the AWAD service and since then have been receiving the regular dose of words. Now I know why there are so many AWAD followers out thereits addictive! Its like receiving a daily gift that you just cant wait to open. Theres even an Xbonus to go with the worda quote that you cant help but meditate on. (An example: What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul. Jewish proverb)

INFORMATIVE AND AMUSING

The themes that Garg (or guest wordsmiths) comes up with are amusing. Two weeks ago, when I first tried AWAD, the theme was words for insults (benighted, zoophyte). Last week, it was words for body parts used figuratively (jawbone, chinwag, toothsome, palmary, flatfoot). This week, its words related to writing (urtext, eclogue, epigram, lection).

The best thing about AWAD is that you add to your vocabulary and learn the most engaging stories about words. (And did I say its free of charge?) Not surprisingly, the service evokes passionate reactions as indicated by the feedback featured in the AWAD e-bulletin sent out to subscribers. Some point out mistakes, others offer additional meanings of AWAD selections, some share their language misadventuresall apparently bonded by an enthusiasm for words, words and more words.

Contacted via email, Anu Garg even now marvels that AWAD has fostered this community of word lovers. "There was no grand plan when I started AWAD. It was a way for me to share my love of words with other people," he writes. "I was surprised in the beginning at the tremendous response it received. Now I realize that the love of words and language is universal. Its how we share our lives and our stories with others."

He continues, "People discover in AWAD that even an everyday word might have a fascinating story to tell (do you know there is milk in the origin of the word lettuce?) Also, I believe if you love doing something, it shows. They can sense a passion in my writing. And it rubs off."

Garg, 36, is a computer engineer by profession, having worked as a programmer and Internet consultant for various companies. Together with his wife, Stuti, he has transformed AWAD into the book "A Word A Day: A Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English" which, predictably, has become a bestseller.

Growing up, Garg says he read whatever he could get his hands on. …

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