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Author Topic: I object, your honor.
Andrew_McGown
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KDW said:

quote:
The most basic tool that writers have is not a pen or a piece of paper or a computer or wordprocessing software. Our most basic tool is vocabulary.

She is correct.
But what is vocabulary?
The word has a number of nuances.

One such nuance is the idea of a 'focal' vocabulary.
A focal vocabulary includes such things as slang, jargon, certain vernacular words, occupational terms and others. It represents a specialised set of words designed to be employed by those who are in 'the know'. One of the functions of a focal vocabulary is in assisting the user in identifying 'one of us' as opposed to 'one of them'.

If one does not possess this particular specialised vocabulary, it is because one has:

quote:

neglected their study in the use of their most basic tool as a writer.

I admit, that statement rattled me. Is it true? Does not recognising a word from a focal vocabulary reallyequate with a neglect of one's study, a lack of professional diligence?

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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I think it kinda depends and I think like you said, a lot of it is a matter of how you want to define things.

For example, I've had several people crit stories of mine wherein I use the word "eldritch" and say they weren't familiar with the word and/or object to its use. To me its pretty odd that a speculative fiction writer wouldn't know the word eldritch.


On the other hand when I start nattering on about ofudas and onmyoji I'm hardly suprised that a lot of folks don't know what I'm talking about. I guess maybe thats not a fantastic example since those are words from another language than the one most here use...however, among anime fans and/or people who with a great fondness for East Asian culture in general such words are bandied about quite a bit.


Edit: Also, as an aside, I would mention that from what I can tell the "current trends" and common wisdom in writting right now favors the use of a more basic vocabulary anyway.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited September 03, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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quote:
On the other hand when I start nattering on about ofudas and onmyoji I'm hardly suprised that a lot of folks don't know what I'm talking about. I guess maybe thats not a fantastic example since those are words from another language than the one most here use...however, among anime fans and/or people who with a great fondness for East Asian culture in general such words are bandied about quite a bit.
that is a perfect example. They are specialist terms used by a particular group. Does the fact that I do not recognise ofudas and onmyoji mean I have neglected my study? I doubt it.

quote:

Edit: Also, as an aside, I would mention that from what I can tell the "current trends" and common wisdom in writting right now favors the use of a more basic vocabulary anyway.

I don't see it as 'basic' as much as 'accessible'.
Where is the boundary between esoteric and exoteric language?

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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Thats a very good question, to which I do not really have an answer. Hopefully some other folks will be along shortly to help us figure it out.
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extrinsic
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Vocabularies: speaking, reading, writing. On average, a person's speaking vocabulary is commonly less populous than a reading vocabulary, and a writing vocabulary often least populous.

Lexicon, jargon, nomenclature, dialect, palaver, vernacular, glossary, vocabulary, [BS], etc., subtle distinctions distinguish those terms, some by denotation, some by connotation, some as hypernyms or hyponyms or more generally synonyms of each other. Any one could be connotated by context to have a negative, neutral, or positive valence.

In a larger sense using rhetorical language is in part a vocabulary, part syntax, not just a wordlist and monotonous sentence and paragraph structure, but a combination of schemes and tropes that enhance words' meanings. What makes a rhetorical usage a grammatical vice or virtue is a matter of contendable subjective opinion. However, we all pick up intuitively and practice rhetoric in every facet of our communications.

Gideon O. Burton of Brigham Young University composed an exhaustive treatise on rhetoric, building on Aristotle's original. The Silva Rhetoricae site lists, defines, and provides explanations and examples of 433 figures of rhetoric, from abating to zuegma. Most of the terms are in my Webster's 11th Collegiate. The surprises in the Silva Rhetoricae for me are encountering an abundance of those figures in everyday speech, and in the earliest elemental primary school readers to the most impenetrable texts available. It's a vocabulary of rhetoric, the art of persuasion. In story, the primary essential I've uncovered is persuading a reader into an immersion trance and not disrupting the trance until the bitter or sweet ending.

http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/silva.htm


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extrinsic
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What's esoteric or exoteric varies across a multidimensional space according to purpose and message and audience. A well-known term in one discipline or genre might not translate to another discipline. Culture, ethnicity, age, gender, era, education, taste, fashion, the public consciousness, in permutations and combinations, affect what's in or out of readily interpretable context.

However, in the main, about 2,000 English words are common to all English speaking peoples, about equivalent to the accomplishment expected for seventh grade reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills, excepting proper nouns.

In a similar vein, some material packaging is required to be accessible at a fourth grade level, pharmaceutical labeling with prescription instructions for example.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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That's great.

We understand that a form can be judged only as signification, not as expression. A writer’s language does not represent reality, but signifies it and because reality can be perceived by esoteric and exoteric means, individuals realities vary markedly.

Understanding that what functions as a sign in one language system can function as a signifier in another or metalanguage, standing-in for a range of 'assumed' knowledges (ie the role of myth in the media) and given, as extrinsic points out, the multiplicity of possible ideological and semiological interpretations of a text, along with an awareness of the existence of focal vocabularies peculiar to all individuals (and I contend focal vocabularies can exist in a range of metalanguages) under what circumstances can the 'neglect' indictment be considered fair?

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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Audience targeting dictates. The kinds of narrative intrusions that a sixty-year-old lifetime science fiction reader would find disruptive might be invisible to a twelve-year-old first-time reader. Diction, syntax, balance of literal meaning and figurative meaning, narrative point of view, resonance with viewpoint characters, etc., whatever features fit a target audience's comfort zone without challenging it too much matters, excepting readers who like to have their comfort zones challenged.

The negligence factor in my opinion comes into play when either a writer isn't writing to a target audience's comfort zone or a writer has come out of the box barely piercing the publishing ceiling and doesn't keep ahead or abreast of his audience's expectations and growth. Never reaching or falling behind a captivated audience are equally fatal to a writer's career.

Also in my opinion, another potential area of vocabulary neglect is studying the terminology of writing. My writing lexicon now approaches several thousand terms. I have a comprehensive grasp of their meanings and usages. For example, the rhetorical figure polysyndeton, multiple conjunctions.

Cormac McCarthy uses polysyndeton to slow down reading pace in descriptive passages. Brad Land, author of Goat, a brutally blunt autobiographical novel about the trials of college fraternity life, deftly emulates McCarthy's usage of polysyndeton and asyndeton (lacking conjunctions serving to increase reading pace) for influencing reading pace, and McCarthy's absence of apostrophes and quote marks, another meaningful rhetorical scheme. I'm convinced both writers knew precisely what they were doing and why and why it works for their target audiences.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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So, this negligence is more to do with a lack of understanding of the audience's and genre's focal vocabulary?

I believe there is also a listening vocabulary.

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I'd be hard pressed to assign a potential genre audience a focal vocabulary beyond a universal baseline. An established audience following, I would perhaps, and a higher likelihood to a serial novel writer, like for Isaac Asimov's Foundation franchise. Admittedly, though, the Three Laws of Robotics have transcended their original frame of reference.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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In that case, other than in failing to study the terms associated with literary analysis, where is the negligence?

Is it in being ignorant of the universal baseline vocabulary of the genre etc?

Not reading?
Perhaps not reading enough, or not reading enough of your chosen field/genre is how writers most effectively neglect their vocabulary.

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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Any negligence of vocabulary, if there is one, comes from reaching for the best word choice and finding the cupboard bare.

Red blood colored wine was spilled on the white, deep pile carpet like a gushing water hydrant.

//Burgundy wine splashed from the upset carafe and splattered like shed blood onto the plush white carpet.//


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Andrew_McGown
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the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
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jezzahardin
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Hi all. (Official introductions are in the introductions area, so I'll get straight to the topic.)

quote:
Any negligence of vocabulary, if there is one, comes from reaching for the best word choice and finding the cupboard bare.

For me, this sums it up. Vocabulary is to writers what brushes are to painters. We have big and little ones, course and smooth, and it all depends on the picture we are painting.

Personally, I strive to use smaller and simpler words as much as possible. I have a passable vocabulary, but I am a student of Shrunk and White, and I extend their advice on conciseness down from paragraphs and sentences straight to words.

  • Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat the subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.


Applying that down to the simplification of vocabulary, if 'red' will convey my meaning, I will not use 'burgundy'.


[This message has been edited by jezzahardin (edited September 03, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by jezzahardin (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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quote:
Shrunk and White

heh heh
sounds like my last cold-water swim.

Welcome Jez.

Look forward to hearing more from you.

I am also an advocate of 'no unneccessary words', however, I am also an advocate of using the 'right' word.

Think of the cultural connotations of 'burgundy'

a kind of wine
a region in france
an ancient kingdom (x2)
charlemagne
a specific colour
an allusion to wealth, history and power
or an anchorman...

It may just be the perfect word in the right spot.


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Kitti
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I think I follow the main argument that's going on here, but I have to disagree with the cupboard bare analogy. That's a problem, true, but it's not negligence unless the author throws up his hands and says, "Oh well!" instead of heading to his local market (dictionary, peers, reference books, what have you) to refill said cupboard.
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Robert Nowall
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The joke I remember about vocabulary went something like this:

A famous essayist received an offer from a newspaper: CABLE TWO THOUSAND WORDS ON ISSUE OF THE DAY.

The essayist cabled back: DO NOT KNOW TWO THOUSAND WORDS.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Point of clarification, for whatever it may be worth: I wasn't necessarily talking about specialized or focal vocabularies, and I submit that reading, reading, reading is one of the best ways to increase a writer's basic tool set.

I second Kitti's post regarding how to deal with a bare cupboard.

Writers who do no more than remark on the use of words they do not recognize and/or understand may very well be neglecting their study in the use of their most basic tool as a writer.

Writers who go to the effort of learning the meaning and understanding the usage of such words can thereby gain more words, increasing vocabulary and making it a better tool.


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Merlion-Emrys
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However I do have to wonder given that in my experience we as writers are being encouraged to simply not use words that some readers may not be familiar with (such as me and eldritch) if reading is likely to become less and less of a tool for building vocabulary.


Also, for me...I realize that there is much writing, grammatical and story-analysis terminology I'm not familiar with...and I do have a desire to learn more about the language of grammar and its workings...but some of the more analysis-related stuff not so much. Personally I think in many cases explaining ones thoughts and meaning in detail, rather than trying to encapsulate concepts in single words that 1) many people may not know and 2) even if they do may be heavily subject to interpretation is probably going to get your point across to more people more easily.


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Denem
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My vocabulary-or lack thereof is one (of many) issues I am currently working to correct.
By the way, some of you guys are using a lot of big words that I'll have to Google or ask my seven year old about later.

I think the 'basic vocabulary tool' is not only knowing a word and its meaning(s), but also knowing when, where and how often to use it, as Andrew alluded to and extinsic demonstrated with 'burgundy'. If we as writers use words that few people will recognize and it pulls them out of our stories, they won't care how many words we know, they're not going to finish reading our work. They will move on to something they won't need a dictionary to understand.

[This message has been edited by Denem (edited September 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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Readability index criteria informs my creative writing word choices. Burgundy, for example, a three-syllable word triggers a hit in readability checking applications. Seventh grade level readability generally allows for one- and two-syllable words, and a very few familiar three-syllable words. Seventh grade equivalent reading level as I know it is the U.S. national average.

Reading skills is another area I keep in mind when considering a reading audience. "According to the National Reading Panel, the ability to read requires proficiency in a number of language domains: phonemic awareness, phonics (sound-symbol correspondence), fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension." Wikipedia: Reading skills acquisition.

Also from Wikipedia: Reading skills acquisition, Chall's Stages of Reading Development;

  • "Stage 0. Prereading: The learner gains familiarity with the language and its sounds. A person in this stage becomes aware of sound similarities between words, learns to predict the next part in a familiar story, and may start to recognize a few familiar written words. Chall's Stage 0 is considered comparable to what is often called "reading readiness." Typically developing readers achieve this stage about the age of 6.
  • Stage 1. Initial reading stage, or decoding stage: The learner becomes aware of the relationship between sounds and letters and begins applying the knowledge to text. This demonstrates the reader has achieved understanding of the critical concept of the alphabetic principle and is learning sound-symbol correspondences, the alphabetic code.[4] Typically developing readers usually reach this stage by the age of 6 or 7.
  • Stage 2. Confirmation: This stage involves confirming the knowledge acquired in the previous two stages and gaining fluency in those skills. Decoding skills continue to improve, and they begin to develop speed in addition to accuracy in word recognition. At this point, the reader should be able to give attention both to meaning and to the print, using them interactively to build their skills and fluency. This stage is critical for the beginning reader. If the developing reader stops making progress during this stage, the individual remains, in Chall's words, "glued to the print." Typically developing readers usually reach this stage around the age of 8.
  • Stage 3. Reading to learn: At this stage, the motivation for reading changes. The reader has enough reading skill to begin to read text in order to gain information. Readers' vocabulary development accelerates at this point resulting from increased exposure to the written word. Typically developing children usually achieve this stage in 4th grade, around the age of 9.
  • Stage 4. Multiple viewpoints: The reader at this stage begins to be able to analyze what they read, understand different points of view, and react critically to what they read. Typical readers are developing this skill set during the high school years, around ages 14 to 19.
  • Stage 5. Construction and judgment: At this stage, readers have learned to read selectively and form their own opinions about what they read; they construct their knowledge from that of others. This highest level of reading development is not usually reached until college age, or later, and may in fact be achieved only by those who have an intellectual inclination."

Note that Chall's stages correspond in some small way to how the marketplace categorizes literature by audience age group, i.e., mid grade, young adult, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_skills_acquisition


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jezzahardin
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quote:
Readability index criteria informs my creative writing word choices. Burgundy, for example, a three-syllable word triggers a hit in readability checking applications.
...

Hmm, I think I differ from you here.

My first goal is to know what I'm trying to say. My next one is to say it exactly, and precisely, using the words that convey my meaning.

If that word is burgundy, I will use it. If it is short, or long, I will use it. I will not consult readability indexes if my meaning is conveyed successfully to the audience I am trying to reach.

To quote Robert Louis Stevenson, "Don’t write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood."

If burgundy leaves the reader misunderstanding my meaning, thinking instead of a place in France or an anchorman when I mean a colour, then it was the wrong word.

I'm not saying big words are bad. Just that they are not intrinsically good because of their length.

Meaning is king.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Of course the problem with that is that the meaning of the message is in what is received, not what is sent. (I know someone said that, but I don't remember who it was.)
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MrsBrown
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If a "big" word can be figured out based on the context, and the reader's understanding of the action won't be negatively affected by its use, I don't see a problem with it. I learned a lot of words simply by seeing them in print. Case in point: the "burgundy wine" example works even if you don't know that word, because wine was spilled and the carpet was stained as if by blood. It works even if the reader never heard of a "carafe".

I would hesitate to use a "big" word if the reader who doesn't know it will be stopped in his tracks, because it conveys something integral to the action/plot. How do you determine that? Beta readers, I'd guess. I couldn't rely on my own judgment, since I occassionally get blank stares for using words that seem reasonably understandable to me.

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I don't think the divide is all that far across. In general, said however it's said, writing principles that I believe most writers exercise are write from what you know, write simply and concisely, and know and write to a target audience.

In one area I find common disagreement with one of my study approaches, knowing and writing to an audience. The bulk of my forays on writing workshop hotseats has been audience testing my stories by discerning readers, which gives me insight into audience expectations. Exploring reader preferences at booksellers, digital and brick and mortar stores, libraries, and through other publishing outfit tracking stats gives me insight into popular trends. From reading what's being read by who, I get some sense of reader preferences outside my immediate experience, but not enough for me.

Can a sixty-year-old WASP bachelor write a story for a twelve-year-old, ethnic minority, female audience? That's a bit of an extreme, but my personal connections to a broad audience demographic are few and far between. Perhaps by chance, perhaps by design, perhaps by experience, such a story can be written.

Insight into reader immersion (surrogacy identification with a focal character) comes from reader resonance through identifying with the cognitive functions, needs, values, and social circumstances of a reading audience. Vocabulary is just one arena of a dynamic demographic trend I study.


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rich
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quote:
Of course the problem with that is that the meaning of the message is in what is received, not what is sent.

And many a farce has been the better for it.


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Kitti
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I find it fascinating that we started off with the premise of lacking vocabulary, and now have shifted around to worrying over we're using too elevated a vocabulary... :-)

Extrinsic's post reminds me, we should probably clarify what age level we're writing towards when we talk about vocabulary. I write towards adults and that's the kind of vocabulary I think we're discussing, here. I'm pretty sure writing for children is different.

When I write, I assume that my audience will share more-or-less my common speaking (not writing) vocabulary with me, minus any jargon specific to my occupation. After all, in my day-to-day conversations, no one ever looks at me cross-eyed and says, "Huh, what's that big word you just used?" Anything that I wouldn't SAY in a normal conversation, then, pings my "think twice before using this word" alarm.

Also, I think MrsBrown is right - this is what beta readers are for. They're going to be better judges than us (who clearly know these words well enough to write them) about whether that word is enough to throw them out of the story.


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Andrew_McGown
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Yes.
Certainly there are many factors affecting the way a receiver makes meaning. However, there are ways to encode your work in order to better 'ensure' they 'decode' it in the way you intend.

For example, take extrinsic's demonstration above.

quote:
Red blood colored wine was spilled on the white, deep pile carpet like a gushing water hydrant.

//Burgundy wine splashed from the upset carafe and splattered like shed blood onto the plush white carpet.//


He has replaced red blood coloured wine was spilled with splattered like shed blood. His choice reveals a change in coding, intentional or otherwise. We have gone from an image of 'spilled blood' and its cultural connotation to the idea of 'shed blood' and its connotations. 'Spilled blood' has a greater sense of intentionality than 'shed blood'.
Each portrays an image of red wine on white carpet, however each implies slightly different things.

To 'shed' blood, can be more accidental, an act of necessity or even virtuous, to 'spill' blood is more wanton, more violent. The 'spiller' of blood is more representative of the 'frightening other' to 'shed' blood is a better representative of the consensus.

If this "spilled versus shed" change in coding better reflects the intent of the writer and (all other factors being equal)is more likely to elicit the desired response, then it is the right word.

To reiterate and clarify:

quote:
The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Mark Twain - Letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888



[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 03, 2009).]


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Fooglmog
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In an attempt to address the original subject of this thread (and not its tangential discussions):

I agree that a well-developed vocabulary is probably a necessity among good writers. It's certainly a necessity among versatile writers. In the end, all we have are our words, so it makes sense that we owe them a certain level of esteem.. However, I do not believe that a failure to know individual words or vocabulary sets is necessarily a failing in a writer.

KDW created a parallel between a writer's vocabulary and tools. Let's examine that parallel:

There are many types of hammers. None of them are "complete" in the sense that they can do any job equally well. No one would argue that an upholstery hammer and a bush hammer are suited to the same thing. However, they do have certain traits in common. Among these traits is their strength (there's a reason I don't do much hammering with my wine glasses).

Your vocabulary and my vocabulary may be different. Neither is complete.. I'm sure we both know words that the other doesn't. Because our tools are different, I am not suited to tell a story in the way you would -- and vice-versa. But we may both be excellent writers all the same.

Haveing said that, writing is about makeing choices. If your vocabulary is limited the ways in which you can choose to present your ideas.. you're robbing yourself of much of what writing is. You may often end up makeing the "wrong" choice. But at least if it was a choice, you have another option. Allowing yourself to be forced into a sub-standard manner of description because you lack the vocabulary to do better is a betrayal of your readers. If we're asking them to invest hours of our lives into what we've written, than we owe it to them to do a better job than that.


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Andrew_McGown
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The tangental discussions really stem from the question, 'what is vocabulary' and its associated 'what is a word'.

Vocabulary is not about knowing words, it's about using them.

To understand the concept of 'vocabulary' we need to understand the concept of 'word'.

What is a word?

Your hammer analogy works. Just as your hammers have different functions, so do words. You can use the wrong hammer for a job and often get a similar result. You may never know, but others will. The right tool for the right job is great, but a box full of tools does not make a carpenter.

Many wonderful and incredible feats of architecture and engineering have been achieved with the most basic set of tools.
They required vision, intent and application to achieve. It is not so much what we have but how we use what we have that counts.

I have a 1968, 1500 page dictionary. Many of the definitions are right, many are now wrong. How come they are wrong? Why do dictionaries need updating? Is it because dictionaries only document usage? It is the usage that counts.

Words are a summary of a concept. What is an 'ox'? Or a 'tree'?
I am sure each reader has a different image in their head based upon culture and experience etc. Which one is right? Are they all right and by the same token are they all wrong?

A string of dense, impenetrable, abstruse specialist terms is in fact a string of concept summaries, but less than that, each word specific to a focal vocabulary is a kind of summary of a summary. The further you go down that specialist trail words become summaries of summaries of summaries and on and on. The promise a sense of fullness and, paradoxically they in some ways become emptier and emptier.

A title is in some ways a summary of a novel that functions as a symbol for the experience of reading the book.
You can know the title without ever having read the book.
You may even be able to use the title more-or-less accurately in a conversation. You may say something like: "well how very 'Animal Farm' of you." Then further down the track you could say: 'How very 'Orwellian' of you.' By going down that track the words become pregnant with meaning and strangely hollow as well. Does that make sense?

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 05, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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Writing discussions tend to digress because, like analyzing story attributes, any given topic connects to the entire set of writing topics in ways that are distinguishable but are at heart indivisible. Like a game of pick-up sticks or Jenga, at some point singling and working out a single topic, stick, or block triggers a cascade of related topics.

On the vocabulary topic of writing lexicon, for example, the terms theme, motif, and trope are used interchangeably for many connotative purposes, yet they have distinct and explicit denotative meanings. Words' denotative meanings evolve too. The word mundane, for example, at one time before the advent of the Internet, mundane meant the earthly realm, as opposed to the metaphysical realm. But descriptive usage has brought forth a meaning of dull, everyday, boring for mundane. Language is ever alive.

A hierarchal approach to vocabulary focuses at base on individual words and their conjugations' meanings. Words by themselves don't stand alone though. Denotative or connotative meaning derive from how words are strung together and the punctuation and white spaces that surround them. Even negative space, the absence of glyphs, convey meaning. Perhaps there's a top tier in a hierarchy of vocabulary, perhaps a self-contained text in its entirety if there is such a thing, but I believe at that level of deconstruction vocabulary becomes "irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible" to delineate. Wikipedia: Deconstruction.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 04, 2009).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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There is another angle to this, a disease I like to call Thesauritis. It happens when a writer uses words they don't actually know. (Usually they find them in a thesaurus.) Sometimes this is funny sometimes this is sad, sometimes the wrong meaning comes through.
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Andrew_McGown
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quote:
There is another angle to this, a disease I like to call Thesauritis. It happens when a writer uses words they don't actually know. (Usually they find them in a thesaurus.)

Couldn't agree more.

Vocabulary is about correct word usage.

Just because I use the word 'schwa' doesn't mean I understand it nor does it mean I should use it given the audience and my communication objective.

Thesauritus is about pretending to have a vocabulary.
Using a word from the list because 'the book' says it's a synonym without an awareness of the new word's connotations.

Accusing someone of thesauritis can be a risky business. KDW seemed to indicate, in her post that inspired this thread, that to do so often says more about the reader than it does about the writer.

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 05, 2009).]


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Nicole
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I don't mean to derail this thread but I have a question.

I thought people who read generally like words. So, if one weird word like "schwa" came up here and there, I thought reaching for a dictionary or go to dictionary.com would not be a tedious task for a reader, although it would disrupt the reading.

I don't mind looking up a word that's clearly significant to the character who said it or thought it and therefore to the plot.

However, if the writing can't describe a barn without me reaching for the dictionary ten times then one of two things happen with me as a reader: 1- I ignore the parts I don't understand and judge to be unimportant and only look up words that seem important or 2- Stop reading, not because I'm lazy but because I don't want to feel like I'm cramming for a vocabulary test instead of enjoying fiction.

And no, really, I am not lazy when it comes to learning vocabulary, I consider reading a dictionary fun.

[This message has been edited by Nicole (edited September 05, 2009).]


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Andrew_McGown
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I'm on your side, Nicole.

BTW: have you noticed how long 'P' is?
I got to 'P' and never made it through.
So I know what a palmetum is but am not sure about sanskrit.

[This message has been edited by Andrew_McGown (edited September 05, 2009).]


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Nicole
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I think 'S' is longer than 'P' :P Palmetum sounds kind of palm tree or a pricey salad.

'S' has always been my favorite. Snappy, spark, spindle, sponge, splendid, scandal...I should read 'S' again.

'P' has pasta, though. And parley. Wonder what a P-Universe would be like and whether it'd be cooler than a S-Universe.

But I digress.


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Kitti
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It's funny, I always go to my dictionary before I accuse some of thesaurusitis - I want to make 100% certain I know exactly what that word is, in all its permutations, before I accuse someone of misusing it. I'm usually right, but there's been the occasional moment when the word was being used as definition #14 in the OED instead of definitions #1-5 which were the ones I was familiar with. I love discovering new meanings to familiar words.
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Pyre Dynasty
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That reminds me of when I was editing Warp and Weave, there was a word that none of the editorial staff knew (and the author had impeccable skills) so we pulled out the dusty old OED and it turned out it was a bird that only lives in a certain hill in new england. We contacted the author and it and it turns out it was a typo.
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Andrew_McGown
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oh please, please, please tell me the word.

( We wants it. )


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philocinemas
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Not to resurrect a dying post, but a definition on my son's 2nd grade vocabulary list this week threw me for a loop.

The word was card, and it had the following definition:

to untangle the knots in wool

I had to look the definition up to be certain it was correct. It's amazing what one can learn from second-grader homework.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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There's a nice article on carding in wikipedia, philocinemas.

My daughter spins and knits (I taught her to knit and she's now trying to teach me to spin), and when you start with a fleece, freshly cut off of a sheep, you have to clean it and then card it before you can spin the wool into yarn.


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