We know that word choice is important in writing – in any communication form. That the ‘right’ word will
– minimise ambiguity and misunderstanding by increasing accuracy
– increase the impact of what you’ve said or written – in creative writing, by forming a more sensory reader experience
– evoke the appropriate tone or mood
– enable your communication to be more compelling—whether that’s more persuasive factually, or more captivating creatively
– strengthens originality—no easy thing when you feel every image must have been used somewhere, every simile drawn.
There are pitfalls, of course, such as becoming too wordy or arcane in one’s word choices. The thesaurus is a useful tool, but lists words out of context, and so heightens the risk of mis-application. As it has so often been pointed out, synonyms (at least ‘true synonyms, and in English) are rare as most words are affected by connotation and context. Or as English Language academic and writer David Crystal puts it, Language has no independent existence apart from the people who use it.” I personally find thesauri are best used to prompt ideas when one is stuck, or to insert placeholders into text to return to later, rather than a wholly reliable source of alternative lexis.
Another favourite quote: “Language is a framework for thought and it makes the world meaningful …” So said the literary theorist Stanley Fish.
How true. Once again, we’re back to the ways in which language shapes our thinking. There are times when it is so important to find the right word, not only to be understood by others, but by our own selves. To shape our own perceptions and the ways in which we deal with experience.
Recently I’ve experienced a real-life example of the most apt word choice being important. This may best be summed up with one more quote (since I seem to be at it a lot today):
“Teach us to care and not to care…” wrote Eliot in his long poem Ash Wednesday, part of his appeal to a higher being. Asking that though we may desire things, perhaps people, we do not want to be spiritually, or physically, enslaved to those wants. And by extension, I guess, we need to ‘let it go’, as the popular phrase has it, if the desires are not fulfilled.
Did you Mum ever say to you, “You don’t always get what you want in this life.”? Or indeed, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, as Jagger and Richards might have it (final quote, I promise). Indeed, if we hold on to our frustrated desires, it is ourselves that we make suffer.
I had my work appraisal a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a difficult year at work, and though I am competent and conscientious in my job, there were various reasons why I wasn’t looking forward to the interview.
“You need to be more resilient,” they keep saying. Resilient. It’s a concept I have learnt take cynically, at least in the workplace. I see how it can be mis-applied. ‘Resilient’ in this case appears to mean ‘take whatever sh*t we throw out and don’t complain—we’re not listening.’ It indicates there’s something wrong with you (not with us) if you cannot move on, even when dealt an injustice or emotional injury.
For all my suspicion of the term however, looking back at the year, it is true I am the only one really affected negatively. I have been tough, yes, withstood the knocks and kept going. But resilient, as in ‘bounced back’? No.
The word ‘resilient’ has connotations of fast recovering; able to withstand or recover quickly, says my dictionary definition. That’s not always possible, and I wonder if it’s always wise.
I’ve been looking for a better concept (word) for recovery from life’s knocks.
(I seem to be stuck on the ‘R’ section of the dictionary there).
Not sure I have it quite right yet, but I’m going to stick with ‘reform’ for now. It means, broadly, to change, particularly to improve, but also has associations with re-form, to take shape again, to return.
I don’t think I’ll always be able to ‘bounce back’ from every experience, but the process of re-forming I can buy into.