Monday, May 3, 2010
Choosing the Right Word - Kelly Harmon
Many thanks to Ginger for having me here at Dishin’ It Out.
Sometimes, I’ll be typing along and halt, at a total loss for words. The word is there, it’s right on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t think of it...what do I do?
I usually reach down to the floor (that tells you the state of my desk, doesn’t it?) and grab my trusty Roget’s thesaurus. It weighs about three-and-a-half pounds.
A personal aside: and then we’ll get back to Roget... One year for Christmas, my Mom bought a “pocket” thesaurus for me and my siblings and stuffed one each into our stockings. I was thrilled. (My siblings: not so much.) I used it through middle school, high school and college. I kept having to tape the cover back on. I scoffed at other versions.
A few years ago my Husband of Awesome™ purchased for me, at great cost, an Official Roget’s Thesaurus (the one mentioned above) which was quite heavy and contained nearly 1300 pages. I didn’t want it. And I felt horrible because, after all, I had my trusty pocket thesaurus which had served me well for all these years. It remained, unused, for as long as possible, because I had it in my mind to return it.
And then one day I needed a word which my trusty little tome couldn’t help me with. So I tried Roget...and, well...I looked for my trusty little tome while I wrote this essay, and couldn’t find it...so that ought to tell you what happened. I carry Roget, as heavy as he is, whenever I travel, because I can’t seem to do without.]
So...I reach for Roget, and I look up a word that my mind is telling me is close to the word I need...and I’m offered several choices. Now what?
Well...if you’re writing in English, and I do, because that’s the language I natively speak, I’ll pick the word which doesn’t have a Latin root. More to the point, I’ll choose something with a Germanic (or Anglo-Saxon) root.
The fact is, English is a mutt of other languages. It’s primarily Anglo-Saxon, but in 1,100 AD during the Norman Conquest, a large amount of French finagled it’s way into the vernacular. French was the official language of the English Court. Anglo-Saxon was relegated to the common folk. During the Renaissance, thousands of Latin words entered into English. This is where synonyms come from, sometimes resulting in three (or more!) words which mean nearly the same thing:
royal (from French roi)
regal (from Latin rex, regis)
But, since English, at its roots, is a Germanic language, the words in English which resonate, which punch, which emphasize the situation you’re talking about are going to be Germanic. This is because (generally) words from our Germanic ancestors are shorter and more direct (some would say more harsh) than the Latin, whose words are longer, flowery, and often regarded as more elegant or educated.
Bodily (Germanic) vs. corporal (Latinate)
Brotherly (Germanic) vs. fraternal (Latinate)
Leave (Germanic) vs. egress/exit/depart (Latinate)
Dog (Germanic) vs. canine (Latinate)
Ask (Germanic) enquire (Latinate)
So, given a choice, I would rather ask my brother and his dog to leave than enquire of my frater and his canine to egress. It just sounds better, don’t you think?
And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion:
My novella Blood Soup is finally available via Kindle. You can purchase it here.
(It’s gotten some great reviews on Amazon.)
I’ve put the first two chapters up on Scribd if you’d like to check it out.
My short story The Dragon’s Clause is also now available via Kindle...(and also has gotten some fantastic reviews). It’s available here.
You can read the first half here for free.
Information about other versions (PDF, print, etc.) of these stories are available on my Web page.
And, you can find me on Twitter: @Kellyaharmon
Thanks again, Ginger, for having me. This has been a lot of fun!