DC’s Newest (free) Museum

Just show up! You don't need tickets.

When I first heard about a museum devoted to words, I thought: “nah, my kids will never go for that.” …and I’m an English major, with a zillion books in my house and an obsession with etymology. It just doesn’t seem like the kind of subject that would lend itself to a museum. What are the artifacts? What could I discover here that would change my perspective about language more effectively than, say, going to the library?

But then one of my neighbors looked at me, aghast, when I revealed that I hadn’t been there yet. He said: “It is so cool. You have to go…you should go tomorrow.” And so, the next day, I did.

I was not disappointed.

The museum is free. Begin by taking the elevator up to the third floor for an interactive presentation in front of the word wall. The format is a feat of engineering and artful invention, that reimagines the possibilities of projection infotainment.

The interactive ‘word wall’ on the top floor of the museum takes you on a visually-stunning tour of the history of the English language.

Next, wind your way into the world of words gallery, which features speakers from many cultures introducing the influence that their linguistic heritage had on our shared language.

My favorite room, by far, is the library, with its floor to ceiling bookshelves, mirrored ceiling, and secret room (see if you can find it).

Making your way downstairs, you will find a floor devoted to the playfulness of the English language. There is an open karaoke bar, a recording studio where you can tell your story, and an interactive painting where kids are invited to change the world around them with modifiers.

On our way out, our kids hit up the short story dispenser, the novelty of which made them read more than they ever have in a single sitting.

Complete your journey on the first floor, where you will discover two galleries that articulate the apparently ineffable elements of humor and successful advertising. On your way out, step through the gift shop, which is well-appointed with classic literature and other gifts for the word fanatic in your life.

Culinary Pairing: “WHAT DID YOU SAY??!? uh huh.” If you don’t mind the sort of conversation you’re used to having in a crowded nightclub, take a break from words and head around the corner to Immigrant Food.

Just as the museum of the word celebrates how the English language is a confluence of many cultures, this restaurant highlights the many culinary traditions that make up the American meal. Other than the shrimp dish (it is an abomination to add any lipid other than olive oil to Gambas) we enjoyed everything we ordered.

Immigrant Food also offers a distinct view of the raw bones of the Franklin School Building, in which the Museum of the Word is also housed. By stripping the walls down to the masonry, the interior designers revealed an historically interesting perspective on the architecture of this relatively unknown — but important — DC landmark. But they also inadvertently created an acoustically annoying space which management attempts to cover by turning up the music to 11.

There is no children’s menu and the dishes are all on the salty side, but if you are not hard of hearing, a parent, or someone with hypertension, you will likely have an enjoyable time.