Writers and Words

A writer’s work is with words, so we often have to be precise in our choices to get the message across, unless it really doesn’t matter, of course. No one needs to be “on” all the time.

For the most part, we tend to be precise, even when we shock readers or listeners who aren’t expecting our selection. A recent example was President Obama using the “N-word” in his podcast response to the nine church murders and three attempted murders that took place in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015.

President Obama was a writer before he was elected President in 2008. Leaving politics aside, the fact is he is erudite and very precise in his use of language. See Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. He knew exactly why he used the “N-word” in the interview released on June 22. It described a time in this nation’s past that hasn’t gone away.

Racism went underground for a while but it is now back in the open. Racists are still strident in their ignorance. The fact is there are good black guys and gals, and no-good black guys and gals, just as there are good white guys and gals, and no-good white guys and gals, etc. Personally, if I don’t like you, I don’t care what skin shade you have. I breathe a sigh of relief every time you leave the room, even if we both work for the same employer eight hours a day, but not because we come from different backgrounds.

Non-presidential writers struggle against people who debase the English language in the name of evolution. English has always been in a state of flux, which keeps many academics employed. Yet that doesn’t mean we can use bad grammar because we’re too lazy to speak properly. It does mean we add to our vocabulary on a weekly basis nowadays, due in no small part to advances in technology.

When in doubt, we look up troublesome words to find the nearest meaning. If we do use a “wrong” word or phrase, it’s because it’s appropriate to the occasion:

  • There’s no point using phony la-di-da language to a guttersnipe. And as children of God, they deserve better from us than that anyway! At very least we can use kind words instead of sarcasm, unless they’re vulgar and in our faces. In that case, politeness gets tossed out the window, as with any other obnoxious person who invades our personal space. Behavior tolerated is behavior repeated.
  • Cutting off a big rig driver on the freeway will get your ears burned, even IF his tractor-trailer manages to avoid you. He may sport a handlebar mustache, backed up by a shotgun and degrees from three Ivy League universities, but you’ll get the longshoreman’s language you deserve for almost causing a horrible accident! Plus, karma will get you eventually.

Some words are irritating when used too often and I’m guessing we all have words that drive us crazy. My hated word is “robust,” usually applied to software that is anything but robust. Yet it pops up in other areas, too, so much so that it has lost its meaning nowadays. If it were a product, most of its trademark protection would have slipped away, following the fate of kleenex and jello.

English may not always have the beauty of the romance languages, for example, but it has a whole lot more synonyms, connotations, and nuances to explore for writers as well as non-writers.

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