Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"The difference between the right word and almost the right word

is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

Mark Twain

When I started writing seriously in 2005, everyone who loved me (all two of them) encouraged me in a similar way. My daughter Danielle bought me a Merriam-Webster Word Calendar for my desk so I could learn a new word every day. Maggie, on the other hand, subscribed me to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day, and I began receiving an email on a daily basis, each with a different word. The object of all this was to help me grow my vocabulary, because everyone knows that being a writer requires a vast knowledge of words.


Poppycock - \POP-py-cock\ Noun: Foolish words or ideas, empty talk or writing.

For a while, I actually tried to memorize the words flowing across my sphere of consciousness. I found I couldn’t memorize them any better now than when I was in school, except for the ones I liked. I didn’t remember their exact definition, but I understood the words and knew how to use them. Some of the others I tore from the calendar and stuffed in a drawer, or saved away in a file for later use. On occasion, I’d roam through those saved words and dust my manuscript with a few here and there; words like:

Wax - \wax\ intransitive verb (what the hell is an intransitive verb?):
1     :  to increase in size, numbers, strength, prosperity, or intensity
b :  to grow in volume or duration
c :  to grow toward full development
2   :  to increase in phase or intensity —used chiefly of the moon, other satellites, and inferior planets
3   :  to assume a (specified) characteristic, quality, or state :  become <wax indignant> <wax poetic>

“Wax” is the opposite of “wane.” This is an archaic word seldom used in regular discourse, but I read it in a book somewhere, liked it, and decided to see if I could use it. The dialogue, as I remember it, went something like “… he waxed poetic, memories of Sunday school.”


How many people could I have scratching their head on that one?
But I never actually found a place to use it. The odd thing was, I started hearing it every now and again. Weird!

I did, however, use this one:
Cupidity - \cu-PID-i-ty\  Noun:
1:  inordinate desire for wealth :  avarice, greed
2:  strong desire :  lust
It’s neat how words can mean different things depending on how you use them. When I used it, it was all about the Lust.

It’s true that a writer needs a decent vocabulary in his toolbox, so I still pay attention to the word-a-day emails. When I see one I like, I may go back and substitute it for something I used earlier. That’s not cheating because I learned something new, but because I’m not constantly trading new words for words already written, I realize that being a writer isn’t about using a vast quantity of “nickel” words; it’s about how you use the ones you already have.

Some of the most powerful and endearing quotes are just good ol’ fashion English, and there ain’t nothing fancy about ‘em.

“Ask not, what your country can do for you.”
“Honor is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”
“There’s no crying in baseball.”

See what I mean?
Do the best with what you got … grammar notwithstanding.

Best Regards,

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Illustration used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com