Six Quotes that Will Change the Way You Look at Familiar Words (Plus, a Writing Prompt)

Sometimes all it takes is a few lines of writing to change the way you think of a familiar word. The quotes below use well-word vocabulary words with such original definitions, contexts, or explanations that you may never see the words in quite the same way again. Will you jealously wish you had written the lines below? Probably. With that in mind, there’s a prompt at the bottom of this post to help inspire your own word-redefining writing.

Memory

“I suppose the strange selectivity of memory is half its charm. Our lives are burning houses, and we come running out with whatever we can carry.””—Alexandra Petri, A Field Guid to Awkward Silences

Power

“The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. While it is alive like a tree, it is growing; while it contains itself, it is a multitude. Its directions are unpredictable; it obeys its own laws. No one can observe the acorn and extrapolate each vein in each leaf of the oak crown. The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that. Like the rivers to the ocean, like the lightning strike, it is obscene and uncontained.”—Naomi Alderman, The Power

Blessing

“Blessings are just curses that other people envy”—Jonathan Safran Foer, Here I Am

Regret

“Regret is like a time machine you carry with you all the time that doesn’t work. It gives you perfect coordinates, though.”—Alexandra Petri, A Field Guid to Awkward Silences

Nowhere

“Like Bennie, she came from nowhere, but a different type of nowhere — his was the urban nowhere of Daly City, California, where his parents had worked to a point of total absence while a weary grandmother raised Bennie and his four sisters. But Stephanie hailed from suburban, midwestern nowhere, and there had been a club whose snack bar served thin, greasy burgers rather than salade niçoise with fresh seared tuna, like this one, but where tennis had been played on sun-cracked courts, and where Stephanie had achieved a certain greatness at around age thirteen. She hadn’t played since. ”—Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Forgiveness

“Forgiveness comes later in life, after you’ve created enough disasters of your own.”—Mat Johnson, Loving Day

Feeling inspired? Here’s a prompt to help you try this yourself.

Pick any of the following words and write a new definition, context, or explanation for them. Don’t just do one word. Work as quickly as you can for the next 15 minutes. If you’re stuck, pick a different word and keep writing. Aim for at least FIVE of these words starting right… now.

Luck
Fate
Sympathy
Light
Picture
Paper
Share
Clean
Leave
Coffee
Take
Speed
Wait
Agreement
Freedom
Try
Exercise
Run
Level
Perfection
Show
List
Taste

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