Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When Writers Need The Right Words

Writers – and many Americans – get their words mixed up.  It happens.  The language can be complex to some, and even for those who love it and pride themselves on being strong communicators, they may find themselves at a loss for the right word or misuse some words accidentally.  If you want to avoid over a thousand abused words, read Bill Bryson’s book, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words:  A Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right.

Here’s an example:  disinterested and uninterested.  Which one means a person who doesn’t care?  Which reflects a person who has no stake in the outcome of an event?  The uninterested don’t care; the disinterested don’t have an investment in the outcome. Get it?

How about complement (to fill out or make whole or match nicely with something) vs. compliment (to praise)?

Did you know that androgynous means having both male and female characteristics but androgenous applies to the production of male offspring?

His book covers words and terms, that may be misunderstood.  Some of us mix up contractions, abbreviations, and acronyms.  Then again some people mix up exports and imports, think irregardless is a word, and mistakenly use its for it’s and vice versa.  Thus, the need for Bryson’s book.  

His useful work also covers a glossary of grammatical terms, such as conjunction, gerund, predicate, and infinitive.  His appendix on punctuation is brief but useful, going over colon basics, ellipsis strategies, and parentheses gymnastics. It even provides the low-down on the proper use of a comma.

Bryson, a best-selling author of books on travel, language, and life, has seen some of his works turned into Broadway plays, including. A Walk in the Woods, A Stranger Here Myself, and In a Sunburned Country.  The resident of England was praised by the L.A. Times for “putting together a worthwhile addition to any writer’s or editor’s reference library.”  I would agree.

He points out redundancies, such as “advance planning,” takes us through split infinitives, and clarifies such homophones like stationery and stationary.  He makes clear how similar words (torturous, tortuous) are so very different.  He reminds us not to misspell the word that denotes a wrong spelling, and he defines the words we’ve heard but don’t always quite admit we understand or spell correctly, such as grand eloquence, gourmand, high jinks, encumbrance, dowse, discrete, and bate.

I leave you with Bryson’s introduction as a way to think about his approach to language:

“One of the abiding glories of English is that it has no governing authority, no group of august worthies empowered to decree how words may be spelled and deployed. We are a messy democracy, and all the more delightful for it. We spell eight as we do not because that makes sense, but because that is the way we like to spell it.  When we tire of a meaning or usage or spelling – when we decide, for example, that masque would be niftier as mask – we change it, not by fiat but by consensus.  The result is a language that is wonderfully fluid and accommodating, but also complex, undirected and often puzzling – in a word, troublesome.”


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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