My Blog -- Articles on Writing

Discussion in 'Writing Resources' started by Teresa Edgerton, Aug 12, 2011.

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  1.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I've started posting some of my articles on writing on my Chronicles blog. Some will be the kind of advice I give to my clients, and some based on conversations here.

    The topics so far are:

    The Lamentable State of the English Language (this is an older article, but still timely, I think)

    Writing — There Are No Shortcuts

    Taming the Wild Synopsis


    If you are interested, then hie ye hence, read, comment, and ask questions.


    If you wish to reply to any of the individual articles, please post your thoughts as comments there instead of here.

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    Last edited: Aug 18, 2011
  2.  
    chopper

    chopper Steven Poore

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    much good advices - cheers Teresa!
     
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    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Teresa,

    I've only read "the Lamentable state of the English language one" and I've got to say that I couldn't agree more. But how do you feel about the spoken word. Should we dumb down what we say to make sure everyone understands. I often have the dilemma in preaching. A very good example for me come a couple of years ago when I was preaching a series of sermons and was trying to summarize them in 3 or 4 words in a memorable phrase which I would place on a white board. I had a sermon in which my summary was "Jettison your Guilt." I'm not sure how many people understood it, but I had about 5 people ask me for a definition, and everyone I asked, save my wife, did not know the definition. A few said they guessed from my sermon what it must have meant.

    I am still unsure whether I was at fault for the lack of understanding or not.
     
  4.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    That's a good question (so much so that I wish you had raised it on my blog!), and a tough one.

    I do think, writing or speaking, we need to take into account to whom we are addressing our remarks. SFF readers I expect to be more literate than the average person, and if someone reading something I have written doesn't understand a word that I use, they presumably know where to find a dictionary. When we speak, our listeners aren't likely to have one handy, and besides we want them to attend to what we are saying rather than sit there puzzling over a single word. I know how very important it is in what you do to communicate fully with your listeners.

    But it can be hard figuring out which words another person does know and which they don't. Sometimes, I find myself under-estimating the scope of another person's vocabulary. Nobody likes it if they feel someone is talking down to them, because it insults their intelligence, but what is the point of speaking if the substance of what we are saying goes over their heads?

    Still, there are worse things one can do to someone than make them think, to give them a chance to learn something new. Naturally, your job is not about expanding vocabularies, but once you get people exercising their brain cells — who knows? — the process might continue.
     
  5.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I agree with Teresa, Parson, that you have to take account of your audience when you are talking. But there's a difference I think between you -- and me when I practised as a lawyer** -- in our work place and otherwise. People know you are an intelligent educated man and they will surely expect to see some of that when you talk in your professional capacity. Also, surely part of your job is to help them better themselves spiritually, so they can jolly well accept help bettering themselves linguistically, too!!

    Obviously, I don't think you want to be like a caricature of a 19th century English curate posted to a rural parish, where the sheepdogs have had more education than the villagers, and who then produces 90 minutes sermons on Homoousianism! But occasionally using one or two "difficult" words in a sermon when those words are then explained in context is absolutely fine.



    ** Mind you, I still recall an occasion when I sat in with my senior partner and two clients and after he'd finish a sentence or two, they'd look at me and I'd have to give a translation into ordinary English...



    And good blog posts, Teresa. I'd ask some intelligent questions, except I can't think of any.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2011
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    That's a word I had never seen before and just looked up. I doubt I'll ever get a chance to use it, but it's good to know, just in case.

    And if you can't think of any intelligent questions (which I don't for a moment believe), you can at least make some intelligent remarks.
     
  7.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Didn't help that I'd mis-spelled it, I see! (And this is the first time I have ever used it!)
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Google doesn't care if a word is spelled correctly or not. It will give you a long list of entries for the word it thinks you want ... will sometimes insist on it even when it's wrong. But in this case, it led me to the right place.
     
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    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Wow! a religious based Greek construct that I had never heard of, I am impressed your honor! I of course knew of the controversy from which it arose, and it is possible that it was bantered about in the dark ages of my seminary education but without Google I would have been lost. --- A correct spelling might have pointed me toward the Greek, but probably not.

    Thanks both of your for your thoughtful replies. My general plan is to use fairly common language, which unfortunately for me I thought jettison was. I just wish that were an isolated example.

    TE, do you want me to post that question on your blog?
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    No, since I've given you my ideas here, but if you have any other thoughts or questions ...
     
  11.  
    c-strong

    c-strong New Member

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    These look really interesting, thanks Teresa!

    Given that I will shortly finish the first draft of my WIP, any chance you could knock together a learned article on revising? ;)
     
  12.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Hmm. I might. I already have this week's article written, and next week's half-written, but we shall see what percolates in my brain over the next week.
     
  13.  
    Chel

    Chel New Member

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    Having read The Lamentable State of the English Language and most of the comments, I recalled a pet project of mine I've been meaning to start at work. Some of you may know I work with children, 6-8 year olds who are in first-second grade of elementary school.

    Obviously I love books and reading, and this is a passion I share with the kids at work. Apart from reading for them (fantasy, mostly - yes, I get paid for reading my favourite books!) I have been planning on teaching them fancy words that kids of their age really don't need to know yet.

    By that I mean of course words like "vocabulary" or "glorified", the children are quite competent at learning swear words without my help.

    I think the problem Teresa discusses in her article is not only a problem for the English language, but also for my own native tongue. I live in Finland, but I'm part of the minority of people who speak Swedish at home. While Swedish and Finnish aren't as rich in terms of sheer amount of words as English, there are still a lot of words that in a multilingual community are easily forgotten or get mixed up with or replaced by words in the dominant language.

    While that in itself may not be bad (as youngsters have a wider vocabulary when they know more than one language) it can pose problems, such as the perplexed stares received when using a "strange" word or, more worryingly, when communicating with Swedish Swedes who naturally do not understand Finnish. (As a complete sidenote, while I'm still not quite on the subject at hand: Some Swedes, when speaking to Swedish-speaking Finns, actually think they are hearing Finnish, while our language is almost exactly the same with different pronounciation... but that can of course only be blamed on the Swedish educational system, and trust me, in many ways the Finnish system isn't much better.)

    Back on subject.
    I confess that I'm lazy, and most of the time when I read I do not look up words that are unfamiliar to me, unless of course the same word keeps popping up continuously, and I start feeling I'm missing out on something or can't comprehend what is going on in the text.

    However, when I write (especially when I write in English), I see why I should have looked up all those words I skipped, as I know exactly what I want to say and I know there is a perfect word for it out there, but I just can't find it in my head. Depending on what I'm writing (posts for forums versus prose) I may or may not look it up, or revert to my natural state of procrastination. My goal, however, is to make my thoughts accessible to audiences from the wide variety of backgrounds and native tongues that the Internet brings us.

    Having said all that, I still agree that we as (aspiring) writers should strive to keep the English language as rich and nuanced as possible. This is one of the most widely used languages in the world, one that is not only taught in schools from early ages but also one that people come in contact with every day. (This statement is of course based on my own background and should not be taken as a fact that encompasses the whole world, I'm sure things are very different in other areas than Scandinavia!)
     
  14.  
    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    I'm going to go a little off piste and argue that the English language is not in a lamentable state.

    I think we need to draw a distinction between people using the language badly and people using the language in a way which differs to the way we were personally taught to use it back in the mists of time*. A great deal of the grumbling I see today falls into the second category.

    English is an ever-changing language. Thanks largely to the US, it is widely spoken around the world. It is vibrant, growing and alive. In what way can that be descibed as lamentable?

    The version of English that we speak is merely the language as it existed at one stage in its very long life. I feel sure that lots of our ridiculous conventions - many of which appear to be designed to treat English as though it were Latin or Ancient Greek - are becoming increasingly anachronistic. I might personally care about apostrophes and semi colons (because I was taught about them and enjoyed learning about them), but let's face it - most people nowadays neither know nor care about them and there is no indication that folk are finding it any harder to express themselves now than they did 20 or 30 years ago. The bloke who wrote Beowulf wouldn't have had much time for them, either.

    We cannot pickle the language in aspic and judge current generations by our own standards. I might sling job applications in the bin if they contain spelling mistakes** and I might feel the desire to murder when I hear a British child who has been no closer to Central Perk than Dai's Caff on Anglesey say "can I get a chicken wrap?", but that's mainly because I am rapidly becoming a reactionary old curmudgeon, not because the young people are doing anything wrong. It was ever thus - I recall my elders picking holes in me for saying "can I have a chicken sandwich?" rather than "may I have...". No doubt, their great great etc grandparents would have picked holes in their young for saying "ifackins!" rather than "marry, come up!" or for referring to the French pox as Cupid's measles.

    That said, aspiring writers have little or no choice in the matter - at the moment. Like it or not, I cannot affect the development of the language. Like it or not, those who wish to become published writers do have to learn grammar and syntax as they are currently expressed.

    Regards,

    Peter

    * Just before the Crimean War, in my case.
    ** About the most fun I can expect in the average day.
     
  15.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Did you actually read the article Peter? It's not about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Not even close. It's about the narrowing of our vocabularies, as words disappear or become so general in their meanings that they cease to mean anything at all. It's not about the invention of new words or the use of slang (which tends to be ephemeral anyway), it's about the way that perfectly good words that have no exact equivalents to replace them are slipping into obscurity. It's about the way our language becomes less exact so that our ability to communicate becomes less.

    The article was entirely about an area where writers do have a choice: in using the language with precision, and not allowing themselves to be intimidated by those who complain if they are obliged to look up a word they haven't previously seen.
     
  16.  
    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    Oh, yes. And I largely agree with you. I was just extending the debate. The same arguments which lament a shrinking vocabulary are also extended to lament poor grammar and sentence construction. That's fine - and I am a fully paid up lamenter - but nevetheless I felt it relevant to put the other side of the argument.


    The contrary view is that a shrinking or reduced vocabulary causes those words which remain to take on subtle, multiple or new layers of meaning. It's not about the number of words you know, but how you use them. Richness of expression might come from quantity, but will certainly come from quality. I remember slang words from my youth had very subtle meanings - which proper grown ups rarely understood - and I don't doubt that it is the same today. Not just slang, either - words with an accepted meaning can be subverted and/or can come to mean something very different. "Proof" and "quite" are old examples of this phenomenon, but the more recent tendency to use "bad" to mean "good" is another example.


    I'm not sure our language does become less exact - and even if it does, is exactness such a good thing? This is where the new usage of words comes in - to provide additional depth to the words which remain. An exact system has no such flexibility as meanings are all too often - and wrongly - regarded as immutable.


    I agree. Don't get me wrong - I'm on your side. It's just that I'm not 100% sure that we are both on the right side. And even if we are, we look set to lose anyway. Is it better to use the language with precision or with love? One might naturally lead to the other, but must they always be bedfellows?

    Regards,

    Peter
     
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    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Hm!

    Interesting post Peter. I know that from a linguistic side your arguments are dead on. Living languages are always changing. Dead ones keep the same meanings because nothing changes.

    My denomination has some radio broadcasts in foreign languages. (They do not ask the listeners for money -- He says with some pride.) and one of the languages is called something like "simplified English" it has a vocabulary of 3500 words, and is directed to those who want to learn English.

    You could even make a case for two languages for English (and I suspect other living languages) one that is spoken, and another that is written. This kind of bifurcation was the beginning of what is now colloquially called High German and Low German. As well as some other languages with an elite use of the language and a common and spoken language. (Another example would be KOINE Greek.)
     
  18.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Since it's much more appropriate to have discussions on the individual articles as comments in the blog itself (and they really aren't particularly appropriate here in Writing Resources) I would rather we held this discussion there.

    I do have an answer Peter and Parson, but I am going to hold off until we can all figure out a way to transfer our comments in in the proper sequence. In the meantime, I'm closing this thread, so there aren't even more comments to worry about moving.
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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