copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham All rights reserved
This is a piece about writing, and about writing a blog. Sort of. By writing here, I am attempting to keep up: with my aging self; with the changing world; with other bloggers (All those millions of them? Surely, not.); with irksome and uncooperative technology; with younger people; and, with trends in writing. That’s quite a task for one little essay to perform. There needs to be a stronger focus. Writing is a broad subject, so I will write about language and attend to one aspect of it, vocabulary. We think we know how to use a word, but when we check a dictionary, we may discover that we have been wrong. Or, at least, that our usage of a particular word has been careless. Good writing demands accuracy and clarity in the usage of words.
Like all languages, English is a beautiful form of communication and deserves a person’s attempts to use it well. I may be quixotic in thinking that I have learned to use it as well as I might. However, learning a language is a lifelong process. I know this from experience; I have been studying French for 55 plus years. If there really are nearly three-quarters of a million words in the English vocabulary as one dictionary website I perused yesterday suggested, then finding the best definition of a word can be a daunting enterprise, especially because contemporary usage changes constantly. Nevertheless, I continue to believe such an attempt is worth it because it can making your writing more precise and therefore more interesting. Expanding one’s vocabulary isn’t a bad bonus either. Finding the right word, the one that perfectly expresses your intention can be fun. It can also help you feel as if you’ve given your reader a gift.
Consider these sentences: 1) He walked toward the slaughterhouse, a dark and foreboding place covered with grime. I could change the sentence to read, He slunk toward the abattoir, a grim shack covered with grit. Now I have presented quite a different picture. “Slunk” suggests, of course, that “he” was moving “in a guilty or shamefaced” way. (Oxford American Dictionary). Slaughterhouse and abattoir mean the same thing. Maybe I prefer one word to the other simply because of sound. A “dark and foreboding place” doesn’t convey a sense of the size, whether I use slaughterhouse or abattoir, but “shack” suggests that this particular abattoir is small. Then, there’s the difference between “grime” in the first sentence, and “grit” in the second. Grime means soot or dirt, but grit means small stones or sand. While close in meaning, the two sentences convey a different understanding and picture.
When I was studying the differences among dictionaries on the current market, I happened upon a remark by a writer on one website who seemed to believe that dictionaries with book covers are “quaint relics” for “elderly ladies.” Well, this little old lady, not quite elderly, still uses one and considers it a much faster and more convenient way to find the right word. The online dictionary websites have articles on linguistics and even games to play, which can be appealing and useful when you’ve got the time. A regular book dictionary will be there for you though if you experience any kind of computer trouble. No technology problems at all.
Writing is always about more than one thing.