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How Can Puzzles Help You Discover Words?


Crosswords. No, not argument. Puzzles.
 
I don’t like Sudoku – that’s kind of ‘zero sum’ if you know what I mean. Sure, it works the brain, but always the same pathways and always the digits 0-9. I find them tiring to do, and ultimately pointless, in the way that going to the gym is pointless for me. There are other more interesting ways of keeping the body fit – cycling for instance. The treadmaster and weights don’t interest me. Nor does a monthly subscription for the privilege. Sudoku is like the treadmill of the mind. I know that others love Sudoku and similar number games, and many enjoy the gym. But for good mental exercise with the possibilities of new words, then it’s the crosswords, just in the same way as cycling offers new vistas while exercising the body.
 
Crosswords open new pathways, give you the chance of uncovering a treasurable new word. Like treasurable – or is that already a word? Yes it is I just checked. That’s another subject, having a word named after you – like Newtonian mechanics, or Brownian motion. Or Calculus. Ok, Newtonian and Brownian are adjectival in nature, and I don’t think there’s anyone by the name of Calculus – I guess it’s just Latin for calculating, or something mathematical. My two years of Latin in school didn’t take me that far. The Pubic wars, that’s all I can remember. Oh, and strange tenses. 
 
How about first use of a word then? William Gibson invented the word ‘cyberspace’ – I believe the first known use of the word was in his novel ‘Virtual Light’. How about that? What a legacy to leave!
 
Anyway, crossword puzzles, and the discovery of new words. Can you remember the first word you learned from a crossword? And I don’t mean by checking the answers to the ones you couldn’t work out. I mean a word you built up from the crumbs of the clue, to fit the rest of the words. You sat back and looked at it, turned it around in your brain, wondered if it exists, rolled it off your tongue. They don’t all roll off the tongue in a satisfying aural or lingual way, but my first one did. I’m sure there’s a term for that ‘rolling off the tongue’, but I don’t know it.
 
Termagant.
 
There, I’ve said it. The scraps of the clue, the hints and the letters from the cross words (literally), led me to the inescapable conclusion that the answer was ‘termagant’. I wrote the letters in, with conviction, though it was at that time a strange, unheard and hitherto (for me), unseen word. I envisioned something with six or eight legs, though there was, literally, no clue to suggest that.
 
It must have been twenty years ago when I worked it out, and the clue which opened the door to that word is long forgotten. Fishwife, more or less, that’s what it means. Fishwife is in itself rather odd, as it has little to do with fish (in one definition), though undoubtedly that is at the root of its etymology (or am I being redundant)? Termagant or fishwife, they are best avoided in real life. ‘A woman regarded as coarse and shrewishly abusive’. The definition certainly makes it a memorable word.
 
So, termagant was my first memorable discovery. Do you have any?
 
Crossword clues are now a part of my daily ritual. Solving a few clues whilst I am eating breakfast gets my brain into gear for the day, and with that there’s always the tantalising possibility of a discovery. I’ve discovered other words, but as with lovers, it’s always the first you remember. Provided, of course, you keep exercising your brain.
 
Termagant.