All Words Are Not Equal

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
By Sharon Mortz

I have always loved words and enjoyed writing that challenges my vocabulary. Words are like pieces of an intricate puzzle, and when I write, I fit them together. Since my youth, when reading, I’ve recorded or “yellowed” words with which I was unfamiliar. In junior high, we were assigned vocabulary words to be defined and used in sentences. I tried to make each sentence a little story. I could have taught a class on run-on sentences. But all words are not equal.

I still have a tendency to write long, convoluted sentences. Now, as a freelancer, I’m challenged to shorten my sentences and use simple, concise language. My current writing teachers all admonish me to reduce “big” words and cut wordy sentences.

Factoid: Racecar, kayak and level are palindromes i.e. spelled the same whether read left or right.

Writer’s Digest offered an interesting analogy that has helped me understand the necessity of concise writing and the relative importance of parts of speech: writing is like an automobile. Verbs are the engine, nouns are the passengers and adjectives and adverbs are tails fins, hood ornaments, bumper stickers and other decorative paraphernalia.

If concise is good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me.

Factoid: Dreamt is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt.”

Below are some ways to put your writing on a diet while increasing the flavor.

• Excise empty intensifiers: these are the adverbs that I now eschew like a dieter eschews sugar: extremely, very, absolutely, unusually, really, particularly. These words are acceptable in conversation but water down writing.

Factoid: Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

• Some adjectives are just “nice” and add nothing to the sentence. Example: The beautiful sunrise warmed the hills. In this case, beautiful adds nothing. Use the “nice” test.

Factoid: There are two words in the English language that contain all five vowels in order: abstemious and facetious.

• Sometimes adverbs can be replaced with verbs and that will energize the sentence. Example: The sun was intensely hot could be converted to the sun scorched the skin.

Factoid: Lollipop is the longest word typed with only the right hand.

• One of my big problems is “he said” plus an adverb. I usually want to add loudly, softly or some other “ly” word to the “he/she said.” If more is needed, the first lesson I learned as a writer applies: instead of telling the reader, show the reader with action. For example, “he said vehemently” could become, “he said, pounding his fist on the table.”

Though lean and mean is better writing for the novice, if I attain any writing stature, I will know how to write wordy, convoluted sentences that I prefer. I only hope I get paid by the word!


Cher'ley said...

I believe I'm a tight writer. I don't use a lot of adverbs or adjectives. In fact, I have to go over my writing projects and add descriptive words to add depth.

The sun was intensely hot could be converted to the sun scorched the skin. This is where I have a big problem. I know there are other ways to say a sentence, but I have such a hard time changing the was (to be words) into active words like you did in the above sentence.

Marcia Peterson said...

I love those kind of factoids. Reading/browsing the dictionary is fun for me. Major nerd alert! :)

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