A Good Verb Can Change Your Life

Today I tell a student I have another favorite verb besides grapple


I just love this verb.  It means to magnify, to raise the quality of, or to intensify.  It derives from the Latin and French words meaning “to raise up.” 

I’m convinced that a good verb can change your life.  

What if when we entered a room, folks thought that our presence enhanced the beauty, goodness, and peace of the atmosphere?  What if we worked to raise the quality of every single situation? 

I will enhance the hot cocoa with marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.
I will enhance my office hours by offering cold beverages and playing uplifting music. 
I will enhance my marriage by surprising my husband with a gift. 
I will enhance my home by exuding hope and optimism. 

I’m leaving for campus and asking myself how I can enhance each moment.  Living with flair means we enhance

Journal:  What did I enhance today? 


What Happens When a Person Teaches Verbs All Day Long

I give my freshmen students a list of 500 of my favorite verbs.  I tell them about grapple and fritter and elucidate and debunk.  I tell them how much I love the verbs restore and lavish.  

I leave class and hear the verbs all around me.  Some shimmer and delight; others depress and discourage.  I deflate when I think about criticize, complain, weaken and diminish.  I brighten when I hear celebrate, proclaim, manifest, and renew

After all these years of teaching writing, I start to see my life in verb form. I work to make them the kinds of verbs I want: 
Pray. Bake. Nurture. Teach. Discover. Write. Love. Enliven. Converse. Organize. Inspire. Connect. Encourage. Laugh. Shine. Hug. Rest. Hope. Mentor. Reveal.

I’ve learned.  Get rid of anything feeble, negative, or critical.  Edit out the verbs that don’t make your life jump off the page. 

Living with flair means we choose the right life verbs. 
Journal:  What 10 verbs animate your life? 


A Verb to Add to the List: Shuffle

Learning to shuffle a deck of cards marks an important rite of passage for certain children.  Me, being fascinated by certain words, start thinking about the verb “shuffle” as I’m playing cards with the neighborhood children.

I had completely forgotten about this verb; it’s not even on my list of 500 favorite verbs. (This is the list I tell students to put above their desks or by their beds so they can find options to replace state of being verbs like: is, are, was, were, seems, appears, exists.  Boring, bland.  I tell them a great verb can change their sentence and their lives.  I’m not kidding about this.  I want vivid! I want power!)

Shuffle has flair.  It’s a verb that, to some, denotes dragging the feet.  But in its best form, shuffle means to randomize in a way that creates the type of variation needed for fair play in a game.  In dance, a shuffle represents the backbone of tap and folk dancing.  My favorite meaning of shuffle comes from jazz music:  a shuffle note means I alternate the duration of notes to create amazing music.

As a woman of routine, I like order, stability, and predictability.  As I age, I realize that spontaneous variation disturbs me more than it delights me.  I used to love spontaneity–the more random and unpredictable, the better.

The flair blog began with a random and spontaneous act.  I danced in my kitchen with my neighbor.  That led to a local NPR radio spot, and well, the rest is history. 

Today, I want to shuffle.  I want to allow space for random and spontaneous.  When I shuffle my day, like a deck of cards, I can make music.


5 Ways to Write with Flair

If I’m going to live with flair, I have to think about communicating with flair. Most of us will have thousands of occasions for writing in the next year: emails, text messages, resumes, blog entries, cover letters, articles, love letters, essays, reports, memos, or our next big novel. After ten years of teaching, after reading over six thousand student essays (I counted once), and after analyzing more grammar books than any person should, I wrote this book called “How to Write with Flair.” And then I thought about living with flair, and well, you know the rest.

But back to how to write with flair.

It’s easy. I know 5 tricks. Ready?

1. Choose a verb with flair. Eliminate feeble verbs (am is are was were has have had seems appear exists). These verbs don’t show anything happening. Use exciting verbs. I love verbs like grapple and fritter. Grapple with strong verbs to fritter away the feeble ones.

2. Toggle between the Big 5 punctuation marks: Semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma. Here’s a paragraph that embeds these tricks.

When you want to create complexity and voice in your writing, try using the Big 5. To highlight a part of your sentence–like this one–use dashes. Dashes shout. On the other hand, if you want to whisper and share a secret with an audience (like this one), use parentheses. Parentheses whisper. Semicolons confuse most; they unite full sentences that belong together because the second sentence explains or amplifies the first. Commas help the reader along by following introductory clauses, or they combine two sentences when you want to use a conjunction like and, but, for, or, nor, so (We can talk later about this; commas are really hard unless you had grammar instruction as a kid). Finally, the colon designates that a list or definition will follow. So the Big 5 include: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma. Do you feel smart?

3. Vary the length of your sentences and change the way they start to create rhythm. See sample paragraph above.

4. Garnish your paragraph with some clever wordplay if you can. Common cleverness in writing includes: puns, repeated first words, self-answering questions, understatement, just being funny, just being YOU.

5. Engage your audience. Establish rapport by talking to them. Are you wondering how this works? Just notice them in your writing (like I just did). Make it obvious that you are talking to people.

Try these simple things to create some flair in your emails or reports today. Enjoy some written flair.