ACW

ACW

Monday, 5 October 2015

Picking Your Words Carefully

At times in our house we are what you might call verbally challenged. I confess to being a little hard of hearing, to the extent that I have a hearing aid. My husband, the long-suffering Mr C, has reading glasses. Neither of us are very good at remembering to put them in/on. Only this week we were talking at breakfast and over the crunching of my Minibix I heard quite clearly "word, word, volleyball, word." (It's always a relief to hear something clearly to give me something to grip onto as I slide into misunderstanding.) "Volleyball?" I say, mid-crunch. "Volleyball?" Mr C replies, with a slight spreading of the syllables to give me enough of a clue that my ears have failed again. "I said Bible". Oh. Not to be outdone, I point out that his texts to me over the past two weeks have included the phrases "Git BBC", "Prayer for pudge on" and "Donor park here". Oh, indeed.

As writers we continually search for the right word to use, scouring our memories and our thesauri for the one which absolutely fits. Even in conversation I am conscious of picking my words carefully, conscious also that the more tired I get, the longer the words tend to become (which is why I like to write in the mornings, for everyone's sake). I remember back in Latin classes at school the teacher, the formidable Mrs W, teaching us that the root to the word "argument" was to do with sharpening swords. Thus, in an argument of its truest kind, we are sharpening or honing our thoughts and judgements against those of our opponent.

A no-more-friend used to love arguing with me. Our verbal parries would go back and forth, me never seeming to gain ground, until her final lunge which was always this phrase: "It's just semantics." Whatever she knew the dictionary definition to be, what she meant by it was, "I don't care what you think or feel about this issue. At the end of the day, it's only words."

ONLY WORDS?! As if the writer's lifeblood could be so easily dismissed? Let us never stop our obsession with words which play in our minds and tease us in our dreams. The right words can make our hearts sing or our souls grieve. They can heal a relationship or destroy it completely. Whatever else we strive for and fail at, let us never say "It's only words."

14 comments:

  1. Great post Jane. It is true we need to choose each word carefully. Using the wrong word can change the meaning if our sentence completely

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  2. Very true and I think we devalue the power of words at our peril. Particularly the false idea that words can never hurt us. I especially dislike it when the language is degraded; when I hear someone using words in an ugly or careless way I feel it almost as a physical, emotional pain. One of the many things I love about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is the way he employs different registers of language for the different beings - hobbits, elves, orcs. The orcs speak in a harsh clumsy, ugly way and the form of their words reflect this. Thank you for a very interesting and perceptive post.

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    1. SC Skillman - so agree about Tolkien's use of language - it is brilliant both in distinguishing types and speakers and in creating atmosphere.

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  3. I totally agree with you re the importance of using words very carefully - and I have a particular bee in my bonnet over the way words are sometimes tersely/rudely used is emails, with the excuse that it saves time or "gets to the point" more quickly. I think the written word is even more important in this regard as it is always there for us to review, wondering about subtle meanings etc. I sympathise re the hearing issue too as, due to frequent heavy colds, I am often challenged here. Like you, there is are many family stories about this over the years including the infamous "ardvaak" for "car park" incident. I try to tell myself it makes life more interesting! Great post.

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  4. I loved your post. Anything to do with words floats my boat anyway, but I really like the way you write, too. It made me laugh, especially the volleyball/Bible confusion. That could lead to all kinds of problems!!

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    1. That's very encouraging, thank you!

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  5. I loved the volleyball/Bible confusion too to say nothing of git BBC and prayer for pudge on. Brilliant. I'm so glad you've joined the More than Writers' blog Janey x

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    1. Thanks Mandy! I should have logged in last night to read these lovely comments; as it was I went to bed convinced I'd done a terrible job and that I'd never be asked again. Happy this morning!

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  6. Your breakfast conversations sound fascinating, Janey! I love the way you celebrate the impact that words have on our lives. xx

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    1. I blame my breakfast cereal entirely, of course. Now the weather is colder I shall be back on porridge. I hear much better over porridge 😉

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  7. Thank you all for your encouragement. It was nerve-wracking joining such an illustrious crew, and I'm relieved not to have been thrown overboard on my first voyage!

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  8. Love it! In our house there is now the Highland Hoover ... created though mis-hearing and greeted with enormous hilarity and a cartoon drawn of a (upright with tartan dustbag) hoover playing golf ... Sorry not to've met you properly at Scargill, Jane, though I do recognise the photo. (Confession: thought you looked a little scary - but you're not!)

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  9. Love it! In our house there is now the Highland Hoover ... created though mis-hearing and greeted with enormous hilarity and a cartoon drawn of a (upright with tartan dustbag) hoover playing golf ... Sorry not to've met you properly at Scargill, Jane, though I do recognise the photo. (Confession: thought you looked a little scary - but you're not!)

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  10. I love words but I wish I didn't love grammar. My old-fashioned education still makes me cringe when I hear the 'I've saw' and 'I've went' that almost everyone in west of Scotland (even the perfectly literate and qualified) employs. I also hate misrelated participles: 'Walking down the street, she was sitting in the window' . Mind you, they can be quite fun to collect (but not correct - don't want to be seen as an old pedant)

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