Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Writers have a thing about words.  Today Rob Wells asked on face book if anyone ever used the word surreptitiously in conversation, not in writing, but does anyone ever actually say surreptitiously? He mostly got a lot of smart aleck comments from other writers, but it's actually a good question. Most of us have much larger reading vocabularies than speaking vocabularies.  Then too there are some words that sound fine in print, but spoken aloud they give the impression someone is putting on airs. And oddly enough most of us harbor a number of words we can define, but not pronounce.  Unfortunately a number of us occasionally use a word that just doesn't fit. 

Speaking of pronunciation, is there anyone who hasn't snickered at a newscaster's slaughter of place names.  Tooele, Utah; Hurricane, Utah, Superior, Montana, and Acequia, Idaho come to mind. 

When a person is speaking there is no way to tell if the speaker is using the right word or its synonym.  Writing is different. Just this past week I've run into some interesting printed disasters.  Someone wrote aloud meaning allowed, another complained of a soar throat, instead of a sore throat.  It took me a few seconds to figure out that another writer meant pique when she wrote peek. There were a lot of laughs generated over confusing bear with bare. 

One place where one word is often used for another is when people say, "If you think that, then you have another thing coming".  Thing has nothing to do with anything being thought and doesn't even make sense.  The sentence means if you think some particular thought, you should think about it some more.  The sentence is about thinking not things.  "If you think that, then you have another think coming."  In other words, think again!  Because this is so commonly misused, it's actually become acceptable in some quarters, but I find it annoying.  

Most writers are like four-year-olds when it comes to words.  We're constantly enlarging our vocabularies.  Sometimes we pick up great words from each other; other times they're not so great.  After reading a Sheralyn Pratt novel I find myself saying "snarky" a lot.  I got "Squeee" from Stephanie Black.   

I like crossword puzzles and was irked a few days ago when a clue concerning a diamondback clearly was neither a snake nor a baseball player, but was terrapin which is a tortoise.  I turned to my trusty unabridged Random House Webster and learned something new.  There is a kind of tortoise that is called a diamondback. 

My favorite statement about words came from Dan Yates.  When he was asked what was his most important writing tool, he said, "Words."  Then went on to elaborate that he uses big words, little words, lots of words.  I agree with that, I too use words.  Sometimes I use them better than other times, but I'm just grateful for this marvelous means of communicating and sharing stories.


Lizzie said...

I love this post and often think the same thing. It confuses me for a few seconds when someone uses the incorrect spelling or word.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I get some great laughs when I read stuff like "We have the right to bare arms!" and other things like you mentioned. Great post!

Chris said...

I greatly enjoy "nerding out" over finding the perfect word for a given situation. The minute differences between synonyms can make a great difference in what meanings and feelings are conveyed.

As for homophones, my generation seems to be particularly adept at confusing "you're" and "your." Luckily for everyone who notices, the same people tend to not have the vocabulary to add "yore" to the mix.

taylorfamily83316 said...

There is an a High School English teacher here, who also teaches a lesson in church who uses one word a lot that just actually grates on my nerves. That word is, "especially" with emphasis on the "S". She pronounces it "expecially" with emphasis on an otherwise nonexistent "X". My problem with it is, as an english teacher, shouldn't she know better? At least I should hope so, being that she is teaching our kids english of all things.
I also realize that I even use the "If you think that, you have another thing coming" comment myself. But now that you have pointed it out, I will try and correct myself.

Austie Bost said...

I love playing with words, haha! I use the word surreptitiously in speech--not often, but I do use it. Maybe it's because of my Anne of Green Gables background. ;)

Gregg Luke said...

I've had reviewers say I need to hide my thesaurus. No way.