Monday, May 23, 2011

Think about the words you use (1)

We writers, like most of our neighbors and friends, often use words without thinking about them. But we are writers; therefore we should think about the words we use. We should pay closer attention than most people do.


For pedagogical purposes, I chose an example that comes at you from an unexpected direction.

Eric Peters, a columnist, writes:

“The question isn’t whether you’re a liberal or conservative.

“Who can say what either of those labels means anymore? Like ‘Christian,’ a liberal (or a conservative) can be anything he wants to be and still claim the label.

“The question, I think, is whether you’re an authoritarian.

“It is a question that neatly cleaves one group of people from another. There’s no hedging, no getting around the central thing – which is: Do you – or don’t you – support using force to compel other people to do what you want them to do? If you do, then you are an authoritarian. It does not matter whether your desire to control others is based on ‘liberal’ goals or ‘conservative’ ones.

“To your victims, the defining thing is force.” (Emphasis in original.) (Full essay here.)

This blog is about writing, not politics, so I don’t wish to comment on the politics of the example. I do wish to point out that Mr. Peters has written a thought-provoking essay about two words we use too casually.

I believe we writers should be constantly challenging ourselves. One technique I use, several times per day, is to ask myself:

“How clear will this be to my reader? How can I make it clearer?”

The Takeaway: Think about the words you use. Jacques Barzun suggests you “resensitize (your) mind to words” and always “have a point and make it by means of the best word.”

While writing this post, I looked up these words: likely, clear, pedagogical and direction.

See disclaimer.

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