Sunday, July 03, 2005

Are you really a wannabe?

Sometimes things that bug me stay with me for a while, surface again, and even sometimes hit at a point where I can consider it. This morning, still curled up in bed, I had one of those moments and realized that there was a site on line where I could look into the definition of a word that would not normally turn up in a dictionary. (See Note at bottom of post.)

About a month a go or so we had a slight disagreement about the term wannabe on the Forward Motion site. The person who used the term didn't understand the current negative connotations. I wondered if there was more to the word than I was thinking so I finally went to the wonderful Urban Dictionary ( and copied a few of the more than twenty definitions:

1. Desperate person who wants another persons identity so does a pathetic impersonation

2. a person who acts like someone that they are not.

3. Someone who wants to be what they are not. (This is the most upbeat use of the term I could find.)

4. Someone who wants to be something else and fit in a crowd, someone who tries to act like someone they want to be even though it's obvious that they're just a stupid wannabe.

5. an individual who tries really hard to be someone their not, often by copying others

6. Anyone has the potential to be whatever they want, but Wannabes aren't willing to go the extra mile yet claim to already be there.

7. People who want to be something they can't.

The person apparently couldn't understand why at FM we don't call new writers wannabes. We don't because the term has become a judgment call on the person's ability to write, not a statement of their potential. According to the current definitions, wannabes are people who have failed, not people just exploring their skills.

Of course if people want to call themselves wannabes maybe they can get the term shifted to a better meaning. But right now it has a very negative connotation. I could call a new horror writer a 'wannabe Stephen King' and it would not be praise. People use terms in ways that suit them, and that's how the language evolves. But at the same time, a person -- especially a writer -- needs to be aware of how the words are currently perceived.

New writers -- the term we usually use at FM -- are just that: people who are new at the work of writing. Some of them will find that writing is not for them. Some will even become wannabes rather than do the hard work of writing. But new writers are all about potential and not about failure to be more.

Note: Maybe I should look up terms in dictionaries before I make decisions on what will be there.

Wannabe or wannabee -- one who aspires, often vainly, to emulate another's success or attain eminence in some area.

-- Random House Webster's College Dictionary, copyright April 2000

That is a slightly more upbeat definition as well. And Microsoft Word's synonym finder calls up hopeful, aspirant and would-be. Too bad we don't all live in the Microsoft world -- if we could trust its grammar and punctuation, half the work of editing would be done for us!


Carter said...

I really prefer "aspiring writer". I think that reflects my attitude that, while I'm not there yet, I'm working my way toward the goal of professional status with hope and determination. "Wannabe" really does not describe me or very many other writers I know, though I do know some who don't want to do the necessary work and think writing is just a game.

Happy Independence Day!

Zette said...

'Aspring Writer' is good, too!

Sometimes tags, and what we call ourselves and others, can make a big difference in attitude. I guess that's what this is all about -- that and using words to affect people in ways that we want.