The English language has a wealth of words to choose from, yet sometimes we struggle to find the ‘right’ word. As Mark Twain said:
‘The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.’
The English language has gaps
Sometimes the word we want just doesn’t seem to exist. As Elizabeth Farrelly noted in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, English doesn’t have words for concepts such as déjà vu or wabi sabi (the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection).
She points out there should be a noun for the verb to ignore (the word ‘ignorance’ doesn’t do it) and more words for beauty – a word for the gravitas of a Doric column, and one for noble beauty that the ancients called arete.
Some new words work well; others are ugly
Sometimes we try and fill the gaps by inventing words or giving existing words new meanings.
Many invented words are wonderful. Two on shortlist for the Macquarie Dictionary 2017 Word of the Year were:
- Endling (last of a species)
- Framily (intimate group of people not related by blood)
Some are ugly. For example:
- Re-purposing boulders (moving them from one place to another)
- Onboarding new clients (registering or enrolling them)
- Arming and disarming doors on planes (there must be better words!)
Read the rest of my blog.
A question and comment
Homed and honed
An All about Words Facebook group member asked about the difference between homedand honed.
Homed is the past tense of home and means to proceed towards a specific target. Some usage guides now recognise hone in on as an alternative to home in on.
The missile homed in on the target.
The missiles honed in on the target.
Honed is the past tense of hone and means to sharpen or make more acute.
He honed his writing skills.
Join us on the Facebook group, All about Words.
What if you can’t use bullet points?
A colleague asked how people can avoid starting action points with the same words if they work in an organisation that frowns on bullet points.
My response was that a writing culture that frowns on bullet points is as absurd as a culture that insists everything be in bullet points.
If I worked in that organisation, I would challenge the writing culture. If that failed, I might use lists within sentences separated by semicolons. But that could lead to lengthy sentences.
If I had to resort to repetitive sentences, I would avoid changing the verbs that defined the action for variety because you could change the meaning.
Does your organisation dictate what writing tools you can use?
A reader spotted these errors in The Guardian on 3 March.
‘… infuriating to we on the left.’
‘… the content of the attacks are fact free.’
‘You seem to have bid goodbye to a close and loving relationship.’
Wonder of words
A reader saw this lovely phrase in an article by Greg Callaghan:
‘my stepfather brought my mother a rich vein of happiness’
What words have caught your attention this month?
Interesting stuff about writing
The slippery grammar of spoken vs written English.
An interesting look at how we use There in spoken language. Read more.
Top ten grammar myths
Grammar Girl’s take on some common grammar myths.
Malcolm Gladwell to teach online course on writing
I have done one course by MasterClass and enjoyed it. Take a look at this one.
A grammar glitch leaves NatWest customers locked out of their account for using an apostrophe
People could choose their own account nicknames, but weren’t told the online system couldn’t cope with apostrophes (Sarah’s account). Read more.
The five best online resources for writing
What are your favourite online resources for writing? I hadn’t heard of the Hemingway App. Let me know if you’ve used it. Read more.
Quote of the month
‘My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.’