Thursday, February 6, 2014


A way of putting it -- not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meaning.

T. S. Eliot

     I like words. I have whole books devoted to them. Truth be told, I have whole shelves on a bookcase dedicated to them. I have, inter alia, dictionaries (Oxford-Universal and OED, Webster’s, World Book, Stedman’s), thesauruses (Roget’s, Webster’s, Random House), and books of quotations such as The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations from which the above quote from T. S. Eliot derived.

     What is a word? A word is nothing more than a unit of language sufficient to convey meaning, a morphological building block if you will. Yes, some words (generally polysyllabic in nature) though morphemes (minimum units of meaning) themselves, may be divided into several smaller morphemes, each of which conveys its own meaning. But it is the “word” that gets the job done. Seriously. When was the last time you used “ed” all by itself in a conversation? (Sorry, The Ed Show doesn’t count.)

     Whether composing an email or a novel, any writer’s job is to convey meaning in a written form. When writing for oneself, neither the word choice nor the order is of particularly great import. In short, it is acceptable to list detergent next to eggs on a shopping list. However, when the writing is intended to convey meaning to another individual, the choice of words and the order of presentation may be critical.

     If the purpose of a word is to convey meaning, why not choose the shortest and simplest word in every context? In simplest terms, “meaning” includes more than literally what something is. The connotations of a word will color the meaning to create the appropriate mental landscape to place the word in the proper context, and thereby fully convey the writer’s intent.

     “Deaving thunder in complete and total silence.” This is the second sentence in Earth Angel. Several people have asked me why I used the word “deaving” instead of the more common word “deafening”. Resisting the urge to say that “deaving” is shorter and then sticking my tongue out, the word “deaving” means “deafening”, but the connotations are “stupefying with noise”. The thunder isn’t merely loud. It is stupefying. It was that added zing that “stupefying” adds that I wanted to convey.

     The Russians have a saying, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” As a writer, my saying is “Repetition is the mother of a major edit.”  If a writer wants to keep a reader’s interest, then it is imperative to vary descriptions. Blood may be “red” in chapter one, but it should be “crimson” or “rubescent" in chapter two. In short, writers need lots of words in their literary quivers if they hope to hit a reader’s bullseye.

     Science fiction and fantasy readers are a pleasure to write for, because they pick up a story with an open mind and a fully engaged willing suspension of disbelief. Their willingness to explore the unknown with an author allows the author greater latitude to use words that are uncommon or are past their heyday. It won’t bother these readers if a character dresses in a camblet. Accordingly, let me close with a luculent obsecration for my reader’s patience and understanding if my love of words sometimes strikes you as a confusing admixture of erudition and verbosity. Please keep in mind that the purpose of each word is not only to connect the dots, but also to shade and color all of the space in between.

Thanks for letting me ramble.

CK 1/6/12

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