Roots in Our Throats: Using Etymology to Deepen Writing

with author Natasha Sajé   

Thursday, May 21, 18:00 – 19:00


English has more words than any other language, so researching word origins enables us to choose wisely. “Language is fossil poetry,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, referring to images revealed by the history of words. Paul West, for example, began a novel about astronomy with the word “consider,” which comes from “cum” (with) and “sidus” (star). Using etymology to access history—and the process of change—makes writing more dynamic.

For this workshop, you’ll prepare by reading an essay with examples of writing where etymology deepens the piece. Then, you’ll write (or rewrite) 50-100 words of your own piece, deliberately employing etymology to deepen the meaning. Look at the vocabulary you use in a particular section, then use a thesaurus and etymology dictionary to find words that are more evocative, perhaps carrying an image. For instance, in a passage about a cruel grade school teacher, you might use the word “inculcate” instead of “teach.” Or you might change a Latinate/Greek word to an Anglo-Saxon word with more punch, for instance changing “stomach” to “gut.”

You will submit your etymology writing to Jennifer (adding brief context if necessary for us to understand your choices). She’ll compile everyone’s revision into one document for us to discuss via Zoom. That will also be the time for you to ask questions and brainstorm the process of deepening writing through a deliberate use of the history of words.

Details: online with ZOOM, free of charge, must register by May 12, limited to first 8 people 

Natasha Sajé is the author of three books of poems, including Vivarium (Tupelo, 2014); a book of poetry criticism, Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory (Michigan, 2014); and a memoir in essays, Terroir: Love, Out of Place (Trinity UP, 2020). She teaches at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program.

Register for Roots in our Throats with Natasha Sajé

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