Sunday, July 27, 2008

For the Love of Words

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

There is something about finding the precisely correct word that makes the heart sing. Poets are the consummate masters of the craft. Every word that a poet uses must be dense, with multiple layers of meaning; and, the poet deserves the highest praise, for his very reason for writing is to make his reader’s heart sing.

On the other hand... there is little that is more jarring to a reader than to be cruising through a book, and to encounter a word which is obviously taken from a Thesaurus, with little understanding of the nuances of the word. The glaring intents of this scenario are: 1) not to repeat a word too often; or, 2) to show that the writer knows some 'really big' words. The result is generally ludicrous.

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” ~ Stephen King

As you can see, some authors seem to advocate throwing the Thesaurus away. But, that may not be absolutely true. It would be rather like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Thesauruses are wonderful tools for expanding one’s mind and vocabulary, to say nothing of being sheer fun. It's just that like ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’, Thesauruses should be used with caution... AND A DICTIONARY! A writer who does not fully understand all the implications of the word which he/she plans to use, is playing with fire, or perhaps a bucket of water when the real intent was to light the fire. Wrong in either case.

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. ~ Hart Crane

I make no claim to the mastery of words that a poet must exercise. All that I can say is that I love words. I am a merely writer of plain prose. I simply try to choose the correct word to convey my ideas in the clearest possible manner. The correct and careful use of words is one of the foundation stones of civilization. We need to be careful of anyone playing fast and loose with our language.

May we all be discriminating in both our reading and our writing,


Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future


Brantley said...

Translators are often inept at finding the right words. For example, there's a Russian sf novel from 1933 called PRIZHOK B NICHTO. It's been cited as "A JUMP INTO NOTHING," but NOBODY would give that title to an English language novel. A LEAP INTO NOTHINGNESS works better.

A translation of Bertolt Brecht's text for an oratorio (music by Kurt Weill), DER LINDBERGHFLUG, has Lindbergh saying "I must arrive." That's a literal translation of the German, but an American would NEVER say that; he'd say, "I've got to make it."

Frances said...

Hi Brantly, welcome back. You are so correct in pointing out what a tough job translators have. It isn't only the difficulty of translating from one language to another. Even within the same language there are generational differences in idiom. Within one generation, the language of 14th C. English, which was familiar to me as a child, is now incomprehensible to most readers. This has occurred with almost every major shift in society throughout history. And now we have the spin doctors, and nobody really knows what anyone is really saying!

Kimber An said...

Gee, I really don't think about the words I use as I write my story. I only think about them on the final knit-pick edit when I set my computer to search for excess words. It's kind of like a scuplter being focused on the sculpture instead of the chisel. Personally, I think anyone who is well-read will have all the words they need to create their own stories.

Frances said...

Hi Kimber An! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I think that Hart Crane was referring to writers exactly like you who drench themselves in words and consequently have them spill forth at the right time. But, in regards to Mark Twain's quote, haven't you ever read a passage and thought, "Oh my gosh, that is so perfect. I wish that I had written that."? :-) I have.