Shauna Bickley

The Delights of Language

Posted on Wednesday 2nd March 2016 by Shauna Bickley

English is a funny language.

My mother’s response to that would be, ‘Funny ha ha, or funny peculiar?’

I recently read a book where all the characters smirked rather than smiled, even the two main characters smirked at each other as they fell in love.

A smirk does not give the same impression or feeling as a smile. The dictionary defines a smirk this way: to smile in an affected, smug, or offensively familiar way. Not the smile for two people in love.

We’re often imprecise with the words we choose and so we can give the wrong impression or message. When we talk to people face-to-face we give additional information through our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Problems occur when we aren’t there and the other person only has our words.

I saw a sign on a door that read, ‘This door is alarmed.’ Maybe it’s my juvenile sense of humour, but I couldn’t help smiling as I wondered what events frighten doors.

I also wonder about project execution plans—perhaps there are more terminal outcomes now if you don’t meet a deadline.

To be a little more serious—sometimes when we receive feedback from a writing group or beta-readers, we might find ourselves having to explain exactly what we meant in a passage. My general rule of thumb is that if it’s one person who didn’t understand and the rest were fine I might leave the wording as it is, although I do relook at it and see if I can make any changes. However, if a number of people mention the same confusion it definitely needs to be rewritten. We can’t sit behind each of our readers and explain what we meant. Our words need to be clear and stand on their own.

As a reader there’s nothing worse than being pulled out of a story because the wording is confusing and difficult to understand.

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