You have our word: check out DC’s latest museum


Photo by Caitlin Murphy.

The “Where Do Words Come From” exhibit at the Planet Word museum in Washington, D.C. features a 22-foot-tall talking wall that tells the story of the English language.

By Caitlin Murphy, Assistant Online Editor

Sprinkle. Kumquat. Bamboozle. These seemingly obscure and unrelated words all have one thing in common: they are all part of the English language. But how were these words created? How did they become a part of our language? These questions can all be answered at the word wall exhibit at Planet Word, an interactive literary museum located in Washington, D.C.

Planet Word is located in the historic Franklin School at 925 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C., and is open from Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. While general admission is free, Planet Word suggests a $15 donation in order to support the museum.

First opened in 2020, Planet Word was founded by Ann B. Friedman, a retired MCPS English teacher, who got the inspiration for the museum when reading about the Museum of Mathematics in New York City. The Museum of Mathematics used hands-on activities to help visitors engage in and gain a deeper understanding of math. Friedman then set out to create a language museum based on the “hands-on learning” approach of the Museum of Mathematics. Planet Word is dedicated to creating a fun and immersive learning experience for visitors about words, language and reading through various exhibits and unique experiences. 

Upon approaching the entrance to Planet Word, visitors are first greeted with the “Speaking Willow” in the courtyard, a sculpture that produces whispers of hundreds of languages from hanging speakers as visitors pass under the branches. After entering the Franklin School, visitors are presented with both a Planet Word aluminum pin and a stylus, which the museum hands out to help prevent contact with the touchscreens due to COVID-19 protocols.

Once visitors are checked in, they are told to venture into the three-story museum, starting on the third floor and working their way down. 

Planet Word has a total of eleven exhibits spanning across the different floors. As visitors journey throughout the different levels, they are able to choose the order in which they visit the exhibits and how much time they want to spend at each. 

Rayann Reese, a junior at WCHS, recently visited Planet Word for the first time after hearing about it from a friend. 

“English has always been my favorite subject and I have always loved reading and learning languages,” Reese said. “Getting to visit a museum that revolves around words was a great experience, and the fact that it was interactive and unique made the experience even more memorable and enjoyable. My favorite exhibits at Planet Word were definitely ‘The Spoken World,’ ‘Where Do Words Come From’ and ‘The Library.’”

After riding the elevator up to the third floor, visitors step foot into a large room with a massive light-up globe in the middle. Stationed around the globe are stationary screens, each with different people who teach guests their native languages. While learning a new language, the instructor will ask people questions that they can respond to verbally. Once they reach the end of their lesson, an image will light up on the globe in the middle of the room that is significant to the language they just learned about. 

“I enjoyed getting the opportunity to learn about other languages and learn some words in those languages as well,” Reese said. “My favorite language to learn about was definitely French, and since I’m learning to speak French right now at WCHS it was fun to learn more about the history of the language.”

After visiting the ‘The Spoken World’ exhibit, visitors can enter through a glass door to the ‘Where Do Words Come From’ show. A 22-foot-tall word wall greets those who step into the room to tell the story of the formation of the English language and where words stem from. In front of the wall, there are also black microphone structures for listeners to speak into when prompted with a question by the wall. 

“I absolutely loved the word wall and the interactive aspect to it,” Reese said. “I thought it made the whole exhibit much more immersive and enabled me to learn more since I was more engaged with the material being covered. I learned a lot about how words traveled through time and came to be as well as how words have advanced and developed over time.”

Upon reaching the second floor, visitors are greeted by an expansive library with floor-to-ceiling shelves, a hidden door to a poetry nook and other secrets amongst the stacks. In the center of the room lies a table stretched across the room with chairs and books lined up on a raised shelf. Visitors can pick between numerous book choices, and once they place a book on the table, a video will start playing with images darting across the pages as the narrator gives a summary of the book. 

“I enjoyed getting to see the videos for some of my favorite childhood books as well as hearing the summaries for books that I am interested in reading,” Reese said. “The entire concept was something that I have never seen or heard of before, which made ‘The Library’ exhibit even more fascinating.”

Planet Word has even more incredible exhibits to learn about, so visit the museum in-person to see for yourself! While spending an afternoon learning about words and language may sound boring to some, Planet Word found a way to take important information and create interactive and unique exhibits to both teach and entertain visitors. Overall, Planet Word is a great experience for visitors of all ages to enjoy and cherish, as well as a special way to spend time with friends and family.