Guest blogger Micki Peluso on "What's in a Word?"
"In the beginning was the word . . ."
John 1:1 King James Bible
"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me," says the childhood taunt. This is not true. “The pen is mightier than the sword," and the complexity of language plays upon everyday living. It can be subtle (my favorite), sarcastic, ironic, menacing, hateful, loving, instructive; the list is long. Ultimately words hurt much more than stones, because the scars from hurtful words do not always heal.
Words make or break relationships, erase the tears of a crying child, soothe an aching heart, cheer on an athlete, or manipulate an enemy. Words are power and it is essential to learn to use them wisely and to understand the strength behind a simple word.
As applied to writing, proper word choice is critical to a successful essay, short story or novel. Making an error in word usage can change the tempo and alter the perspective of any given piece of writing.
Years ago, four years of Latin were required in high school. We all groaned, but this now obsolete language was the best example of how the nuance of a word can completely change the meaning of a sentence or story. English, based in part on Latin, is no different. The words one uses in narrative or description show character traits and personality. Using different words can turn these traits in a different direction.
"He was a tempting, seductive piece of work," shows the reader much about this character. So does, "She put on her reading glasses and began stamping the books the children brought to the library desk." Words define characters, build plot and suspense, and describe settings. Words in dialogue show emotions and character behavior. Words are all one has to work with, both in real life and in writing. It is prudent to choose them well. Roget's Thesaurus should be every writer's bible, packed as it is with synonyms that shift context and meaning in the most subtle ways.
"Words express ideas, name things. Words have momentum. They carry you from one place to another. When your words change, you change." Taken from The World Book Complete Word Power Library."
"In the book based on the life of Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker, the little blind and deaf girl's mother asks the child's teacher what is to be taught first. 'Language, I hope,’ replies the teacher, ‘. . . what is she without words?'" Taken from the Dictionary of Problems and Expressions," by Harry Shaw.
Words are critical to writing. Without them the page would be blank. Words help communicate thoughts and feelings. What would we be without words? Mastery of them would take a lifetime and more. And should.