The Words We Choose

As a blogger, and therefore a writer albeit self-titled, I have always been fascinated with words. I am somewhat obsessed with language. Everything from origins of words and common idioms to the greatest wordsmithing ever written or spoken. And I assume that, writer or not, we have all struggled with finding the right word on an occasion or two. Even in our native tongue we have difficulty sometimes, much less the struggle to find the right word in a second language. But I will address that issue in a different article. It is safe to postulate then that the struggle to find the right word is because we want to insure we convey the correct thought, idea, object, or feeling. Especially so, if you are a writer giving longevity to your word choices and thus your thoughts, ideas, objects, and feelings. We seem to want to “get it right”. And for me, the English language offers no shortage of words to choose from.

However, it is also fraught with dangers. There is the danger of using words in a context that implies or infers hate towards other individuals or groups of people. This is likely more the result of intolerance than poor word choice. But I feel confident of a few things, either way. One, someone is going to call you out on it. And two, karma is a bitch. Yes, this power of words is fraught with dangers. There is not an emotion that can not be placed on a reader from the words we write. Some good. Many bad. Judgement, intolerance, guilt, and exclusion are but a few. Although I cover this topic more in “The Power of Words”, it was worth repeating. But on to the real danger.

The real slippery rock, just under the surface of the water, that we are always ready to step on is word choices that convey nothing. I am not talking about being concise or brief, although good editing should be done for both. I am talking about the words that offer no real information. Our language is filled with comparative terms and subtleties in context that are often more confusing rather than less. How big is big? Your big is not my big or is it? How do I know, without comparison? “Turn out the light” can be confusing for someone who has always heard, “turn the light out”. This example is an homage to my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother who said, “Outen the light”. And, yes, our language is fraught with these words. I will endeavor to prove my point by following one example at length. The example of frequency.

Someone is asked the question, “Do you ever eat after 8:00 pm?”

Some possible, yet uninformative, answers that will be readily accepted although they have told you nothing:

Never – This statistically is a fallacy, and it is highly likely you have at some point in your recent life. You may have meant to infer it is something you avoid whenever possible. That’s believable. But the word “never” is restrictive because it means not ever. Should be banned from the language as there are always exceptions.

Not very often – Will you got me here. I don’t know what you consider very or often. I am left to place a frequency of my own devising in the answer, based on my ideas of very and often.

Occasionally – Is that a reference to how often or the fact that it would need to be an occasion for it to happen? What type of occasion? How often do those happen?

Sometimes – Here you could have just picked “Yes”. You do sometimes and not other times. I get it. But I really don’t have a bead on the frequency that it happens with. “Yes” would leave me in the same place.

A lot/Often – See ‘Not very often’ above.

Always – See ‘Never’ above.

All readily acceptable answers to an inane question that nobody is concerned with accuracy about. Yeah, I see that now, but we can make word choices that convey more. We are required as writers to say more with our words, whether in beautifully written prose or answering a simple inane question. It is our art after all. Let’s paint in bolder colors. I offer some alternative answers that convey a bit more to the inquirer:

Probably – There seems to be a Zen like quality here. The answer seems to accept that they both do and don’t as a reflection of the Yin and Yang, without being encumbered by the earthly when.

Only exotic meats – This has the simplicity of still avoiding any suggestion of frequency but leaves a whole other panorama of tangential thought for the receiver. They are likely to forget what they asked you. Don’t we want our words to be thought-provoking?

Oh shit, what time is it? – Makes them feel like you are somehow worried about missing out on feeding time or something. If the question were posed in person, a quick glance at your wrist and dashing off would really sell this. This again will not divulge frequency, but they can assume that you do, and it seems oddly important to you.

Don’t you? – Just wanted to throw this in as an example of classic deflection. Any time you can answer a question with another question, consider yourself successfully saying nothing.

If he/she lets me – The wit of this response, goes without saying.

What time zone? – OK. Uninformative yes, but now you are just being a dick about it.

So, there are a few examples of how we as artists can use our talents for good. We can choose the words we use carefully, trying to impart more than a lack of information. We can answer the inane questions without an answer but leaving more behind than nothing. If our simple words offer nothing more than entertainment for them or ourselves, than so be it. There are too many words already that never do that much.

I am hoping and encouraging readers to leave your own thoughtful ideas on answering the question. Tell me something without telling me anything.

4 Responses to “The Words We Choose”
  1. My answer would be, “Most likely, if I’m awake”. I hope it conveys that I am often asleep at that time, but if not, I am more apt to do so than to not do so. Each “answer” you provided as a possibility falls into that gray area I so adore (NOT!).

  2. I find, most often, that not finding the words is a reflection of un unclear thought or opinion.

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