Tag Archives: Words

Word # 7 – Detritus

It has become apparent to me that I need to change what I call these little vocabulary lessons because “Word of the Week” is definitely misleading.  I have no idea what to call it.  How about “Random Vocabulary by Crystal?”  Haha! I’m just kidding…  But seriously, any ideas???



“… Good intentions buried in the detritus of daily life.”

Again, I draw another word from my beloved Nicholas Sparks.  I apologize to those of you who don’t care for Sparks’ work or believe I am cheating in some way by “stealing” words from his books.  Mr. Sparks is a writer who desires other writers to read his work.  He has a page for writers on his website and has published workbook versions of some of his novels that include reading guides, character studies, and vocabulary lessons.  I don’t think he minds that I use his words.  In fact, I think he would encourage it.

The above quote comes, again, from Sparks’ book, The Choice (2007, p.135).  This was another word I was not yet familiar with, which is why I marked it for future review when I re-read the book this Summer.  When I read it, the word seemed to mean something along the lines of routine, mundane , or clutter.  I was close but not exactly correct.

noun \di-ˈtrī-təs\

The Oxford Dictionary defines detritus as, “waste or debris of any kind; organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms.”  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says detritus is “the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, or is destroyed.”

The quote from Sparks’ book took on a new meaning for me once I looked up the definition of detritus.  I thought the character was discussing how her busy routine was getting in the way of the things she wished she could do – her hobbies, for instance.  I wasn’t exactly dead-on.  What she was pointing out was the waste in her life, the crap that gets in the way of her happiness.  The text takes on a much more serious tone now that I know what it means.

Ashes, remains, residue, wreckage, crap, debris, froth, refuse, rubbish, scrap, fumes, waste, scum, garbage, junk, and rubble.

The origin is arguably from the Latin detritus. Note, it’s spelled the same in English.  Surprisingly enough, it is also spelled exactly the same in French, which the Oxford Dictionary argues is the root of its 18th Century origin.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the first known use of the word was in 19th Century France (in the year 1802).

We all struggle with detritus – the debris that clogs up our lives, the crap that gets in the way.  I am especially guilty of letting those little tidbits of silt fill up my time to the point that it increases my anxiety and distracts from what should be more important.

I have struggled with anxiety my whole life.  Those who are more “easy-going” (my boyfriend included) tell me to just calm down and ignore it.  When he catches me nibbling at the corners of my fingernails he always knows I have something on my mind.  I have a tendency to focus on little things that eat at me until they seem much more important than they really are – to the point that I will obsess over the problem until it’s resolved or another bigger problem takes its place.  All of these little…. annoyances make up the detritus of my life, and they produce more detritus by causing me to push things aside that I would love to pay more attention to (my blog, for example).  Thus, a lot of things I would love to enjoy get “buried in the detritus of daily life,” like the book said.

All forms of production produce waste.  For every product there is a byproduct.  When you’re productive, no matter what you’re producing, there will always be detritus.  How do you decide your priorities?  How do you separate the important stuff from the crap?  There’s a certain amount of crap we must all endure in order to get what or where we want.  We put up with crap at work.  I know I certainly do, probably more than most.  At what point do you allow the crap to land in the “crap bin,” as opposed to your lap?  What methods do you use to discern the product from the detritus?

When I was doing my research for this post I noticed one of the online dictionaries asks readers why they looked up that  particular word.  One man posted that he had been cleaning out his friend’s apartment after the friend’s death.  Many of the books and trinkets that seemed to mean so much to the friend early in his life were covered in dust and the man thought it such a waste.  He wondered at what point the important things had taken the back seat in his friend’s life.  Ironically enough, I watched the move “The Big Chill” last night.  (It was on the free On Demand movies.)  My boyfriend kept reminding me it was a character study.  He also taught me that “Alex” (the dead friend) was “played” by Kevin Costner.  (If you’ve seen the movie you know that you never see Alex’s face, only his body.)  The story is about a group of college friends who haven’t seen much of each other in years, until one of their friends kills himself and they all get together for his funeral.  They spend the weekend pondering why their friend died and looking closely at their own lives.  They all seem to have something missing.  They all seem so “busy” with their lives away from each other, but when looking closer, much of their lives are filled with crap that doesn’t matter -detritus.

Again, I draw back to my “Epitaph” post.  What will be left of you when you’re gone?  Will people see the product of your life or will the byproduct overshadow product?  My hope is that my worth will outweigh the rubbish.

Until next time…

Detritus. Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/detritus

Detritus. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/detritus

Detritus. (n.d.). OxfordDictionaries.com. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/detritus

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Word of the “Week” #6: Flummoxed


I have a confession to make.  I am the world’s most inconsistent blogger.  In my defense, I did warn you I would be inconsistent in my very first post.  This doesn’t excuse my inconsistencies but at least I warned you.  Transparency is one of my best characteristics, even if the only thing I am consistent with is my inability to be consistent.  I wish I had one single really fantastic reason for my month-long absence.  I don’t.  I have a plethora of small excuses, none of which are all that interesting to you, I am sure.  They include family obligations, busy weekends, moving, preventing cat fights (literally), and changes at work.  That’s just life, I suppose, but it got in the way regardless.


I believe to be even a moderately decent writer that one must first be an avid reader.  After all, if you write and never read, how much of a hypocrite are you?  It’s like someone who always talks and never listens.  He/she probably doesn’t keep many friends, and a writer who always writes and never reads will likely not have many readers.  You have to sort of return the favor, pay it forward.

That said, this week’s WOW was inspired by Nicholas Sparks.  Yes, he is that guy who writes mushy love stories which are almost always turned into chick flicks.  Many people might say he is one step away from becoming a smut novelist, but I believe he is an excellent (and tasteful) writer. I admire him not as much for his stories as for his writing style,  the way he molds words into beautiful scenes and descriptive situaitons.  Readers can see themselves standing on the sidelines of his stories because of his amazing ability to use strong words and weave them into tapestries of language, emotion, and drama.  He makes the “same old crap” seem brand new with every story because he knows how to turn a phrase, how to describe characters in a way that makes them seem real.  They are our neighbors, family members, and friends.  The way he describes the scenery is even more in depth.  I have never been to the Carolinas (where most of his books are set), but I feel that I have vacationed there my whole life after reading his stories. (I own all but one of his books – the latest.)  Even if you’re not into love stories, I highly suggest his memoir “Three Weeks With My Brother” (2004).  I know several men who have read it and loved it!


Flummoxed is an adjective, roughly meaning confused or disoriented.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2003) defines flummoxed as “bewildered or perplexed”.  It lists the synonyms:  baffled, confused, puzzled, stumped, lost at sea, at a loss, mystified, stymied, and bamboozled.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says flummoxed simply means “confused” and says other words for flummoxed include: addled, befuddled, beaten, bemused, disoriented, muddled, or discombobulated.

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what flummoxed meant when I first read it. The way Mr. Sparks used the word allowed me to guess that it meant “confused”, but I made a note to look it up later.  After doing the research, I considered that perhaps there were others who would be just as confused (or flummoxed) by the word as well.  I was especially convinced of this when my boyfriend asked what my new word would be.  When I told him, he said, “I have no idea what that means.”  My response, “That’s the point.”

I researched six different dictionary and vocabulary sources, including the University of Phoenix student library.  I am a UOPX alumnus and have lifelong access to their resources.  When I couldn’t find an origin for flummoxed (or flummox) via the customary web searches I decided to consult the online library.  There was not one single resource that listed an origin for the word.  Isn’t that ironic?  I had to smirk a bit at this realization.  Authors and literary experts are flummoxed as to the origin of “flummoxed”.  However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary did state the first known use of flummoxed was in 1837.  If they don’t know where it came from, I’m not quite sure how they could know when it was used, or even what it means, but there you have it.  

I suppose I consider myself a fairly smart person. I scored high marks all through school, even in college.  Most of my instructors, co-workers, and loved ones come to me when they have questions or need advice. They trust my knowledge and are confident in my ability to seek out a viable solution.  I also have “a good head on my shoulders”. I am not one of those book smart people who has Velcro tennis shoes because I am smart enough to understand quantum physics but can’t tie my shoes.  I have enough street smarts to figure things out on my own most of the time.  However, just like everyone else, there are some concepts that allude me.  I can listen to music, work on my writing, and watch a football game at the same time without ever missing a chance to snap at the cat when she swats at the curtains, but for the life of me I can’t play a musical instrument (not well anyway).  My algebra skills are extraordinary.  I can do math in my head for which most people my age or older would use a calculator but I can barely use my smart phone.  My nephew has Asperger’s Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This means he tests in enough categories for the “experts” to say he definitely has something “wrong” with him but they can’t technically classify him as having Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism).  He can hear a song only once and will have most of it memorized.  He has been able to clap or stamp on beat to every song he hears since before he could walk, but he didn’t walk or talk until he was nearly two years old.  He was flummoxed at the thought of walking but he probably could have played the drums at age three.  We all have things that make us feel bewildered, lost, confused, or stuck.
What has you flummoxed?  What is the one thing you wish you could understand or do?  What is something you wish you were capable of doing that you just can’t?  I saw The Daily Prompt is asking a similar question, asking us to write about talents we wish we had.  Some talents we could have if we applied ourselves, but there are some things we honestly can not do.  If I could make a wish and suddenly know how to do anything in the world I would want to play the guitar.  For some reason I can’t make my brain and all ten fingers work at the same time as is needed for the guitar.  It’s not like a piano where each key is ONLY one note.  Each string on a guitar can be a few different notes (or no REAL note at all) depending where your left hand lands on the string.  I have tried desperately to learn and failed miserably in a huddle of tears in my teacher’s desk chair, begging him not to flunk me (thus bringing my GPA down by 0.236 points.  (He very graciously gave me an A-.  I would have been fine with a B.)

Talk to me about what has you flummoxed.  Then, tell me what you thought of this post.  Did you like my choice for the Word of the Week?  What other words would you like me to research?  Also, do you have any books you could suggest?  Although I do adore Nicholas Sparks, I have several other authors in my quaint library and I am always looking for new, intriguing, and exceptional works to delve into.  I love a good read!

If you take anything away from this post, I hope that the writers out there will consider what I said about being good readers.  Really good writers need to read as much (or more) than they write.  I certainly read much more than I write (another reason I don’t write enough sometimes).  I get caught up in stories and find myself obsessed with finishing whatever book is my muse of the moment – whether it be fiction, biographical, a blog, or any written work. I eat it up, and I hope my fellow writers do as well.

Until next time…


Flummoxed. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved September 22 2013 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/flummoxed

Flummoxed. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved September 22, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flummoxed

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Introducing Word of the Week

As part of my new blogging venture I am trying something new.  It is mostly for my own benefit but I hope that it will also benefit my readers. (I am officially up to 3 readers – yay!)  I want to share a new word every week.  I will research its meaning(s) and origin, share other sources on the subject, and hopefully write an entry focused on the use of the word or its meaning.  After all, a blog called What Are Words For? should seek out the purpose of words, how we use them, why we use them, etc.

I will likely post my “Word of the Week” articles on Saturdays, since that’s when I seem to have the most time; However, please don’t hold me to that commitment.  As this is a new blog, it’s easy for me to believe I will keep up on a weekly basis.  I would LIKE to believe it for myself, but sometimes things come up and I am well aware of my humanity. I embrace my inconsistencies.  Right now I am off work, and have been since Friday afternoon (the last 4 1/2 days if you’re counting) because I am battling a case of the Shingles – ON MY FACE (damn chicken pox).  I have a ton of time on my hands, can’t really stand to be out in the sun, and I get bored easily, so right now it’s easy.  To make promises of weekly posts chalked full of worthwhile information may be stretching it a bit. I am not really sure at this point, so please accept my apologies in advance if I post too early, too late, or not at all.  It’s not that I believe ANYONE would agonize in waiting for my next post.  This isn’t exactly nail-biting material, but I try very hard to be a woman of my word. Now that I have the preliminary disclaimers out of the way…

The Word of the Week for July 21-27 is Brevity

I encourage you to look it up, research it for yourself, and come back here this weekend to see what I have found.  I would also love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!  I may not reply right away, but I will try very hard to keep up with comments/messages.  Happy word hunting!

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