1. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That one special word...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Wreybies, Jan 29, 2017.

    We've all agonized over that one special word at some point or another. All of us. Me included.

    You know how when dirt is kinda' more sand than dirt and it's wet because it just rained and it's a Monday in March? What's the word for that??

    There is no such single word.

    You know that feeling when you're sad because you have everything you need to make a sandwich except mayonnaise? In my language we have a special word for this. Keinemayonnaisetraurigkeit. What's the word in English?

    There is no such single word.

    You know when you're feeling gassy and you walk away from everyone to pass the gas and discover, oops, it was more than just gas? What's the word for that?

    Ok, yes, there's a word for that one. Shart (v.)
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    My question to you is, why do we do this? Why do we think some obscure piece of deceased dictionary debris (feel free to shorten that to DDD), which is likely to hold no meaning to anyone who reads it, is better than just explaining it out, making it clear through prose?
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think it's a tip-of-the-tongue thing. We feel like there really IS a word.

    And the existence of the right word is magical. There are some words I've learned that have given me a whole new perspective on things, and I don't think it would have been that powerful if I'd just heard the description of the meaning. Maybe it's a sort of recognition of shared experience? If enough people have felt schadenfreude that there's an actual word to describe it, then maybe I'm not such a petty bitch after all. If enough people have recognized funktionslust to name it, then it's not just me who sees that sort of beauty.

    Words are powerful, man. And one perfect word is more powerful than a bunch of lesser ones.
     
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  3. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    I just read an Essay by Mark Doty called the Art of Description, in any case, he argues that language as a whole often fails to describe what the speaker is experiencing, as language is nothing more than symbols we use to convey information to the reader. I believe that what you are describing Wrey is people's quest to find a word (language) that comes close enough to convey what it is they are/have been experiencing, but unable to do so due to the limitations of language.

    That is just my 2-cents on it.
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Where I come from we call anything on the ground "three feet of snow" on a March Monday. If it's an April Monday we call it "shin deep mud".
     
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  5. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    For me it's an attempt to be more concise and less rambling - I'll sometimes start writing something along the lines of "Tommy felt uneasy, as if there was something bad about to happen to him" and then later realize I can streamline the sentence by replacing it with "Tommy felt a sense of foreboding."
     
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  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Aye, true. Signifier vs. signified. I guess my argument/question is that in the quest for these rare bits of verbiage that precisely encapsulate what we mean - in a neat, single word - do we not also risk the same fate, of not communicating ourselves at all because the word is basically an empty file for the average person? I was looking the other day for a word that describes a particular kind of ornate ceiling. A member was good enough to offer a word that fits perfectly, but how many people, without googling (seriously, no googling) would know what a lacunar ceiling is? And a while back, in a little vignette I posted, I made use of the term brachiate, to describe the locomotion of a creature, and while the term is well known to me and anyone else with a bit of primatology in their educational background, it was the source of much what the heck does that word mean?
     
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  7. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with this - concision is part of it. There isn't much point in inventing a word unless we're condensing a commonly-understood concept into something short and tight. The Guinness Book of Records used to list a "most efficient word" - a word that is hardest to briefly define. It settled on a word in Finnish (I think - maybe Kat can check me on this) that means something like "two people looking at each other, each hoping the other will do something they both want done but neither is willing to do." It's a well-understood concept, but it takes a lot of words, in most languages, to describe it.
     
  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It comes down to voice, for me. If your narrative voice is one that would know those words, then you should use those words. It's not important that readers all have the exact same image of the lacunar ceiling--they'll be able to get the general idea from other contextual words. But if your narrative voice would know that word, and would use it without explanation, then you should use the word without explanation.

    This goes in the opposite direction, too. I'm currently writing a story in close third with a 20-ish street kid as the POV character. Poorly educated, not too smart--I have to deliberately not use the best word for reader understanding, because my character wouldn't use that word. It's more important to me that my readers understand the character than that they have a perfect view of what he's narrating.
     
  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    These are good points. Under this thought process, in the case of lacunar ceiling, I would have to admit to some authorial intrusion there. It's possible that the POV character knows that word, but it would be a stretch, even in 3rd person. In the case of brachiate, the scene was a bunch of research scientists, so yes, this should be a term familiar to them.
     
  10. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    While I don't believe that a dictionary should be used to decipher someone's work, but I do believe that a reader does have some responsibility in making an attempt to understand. I, on a personal level, enjoy reading words that I don't understand. I make a little note and look them up later; often, I am pleasantly surprised.

    I agree with Bayview completely in this line of thought. Imagery is meant to accomplish two things; first, it paints an image for the reader to grab onto (which is why we often look for that perfect word or words). Second, it reveals something about the speaker, (As in what he notices about the world and how he describes what he notices.)

    Sometimes the best word for one person would be the worst word for another.
     
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  11. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I love to look up unknown words as I read too. I could not resist looking up lacunar ceiling just now, in fact.

    Because I usually have at least one MC who is a subject matter expert in some area (cooking, fitness, music, pharmaceuticals, weaponry, etc.) I use a lot of specific terminology that the average reader may not be familiar with. Sometimes I think the readers will look these words up to enhance the mental picture in their heads, but many times I'm sure they just skip right over it if it's not crucial to understanding the scene.
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think, though, that what you said above is exactly why a lot of writers, particularly novices, want to use some special word for the exact thing and exact feeling they're describing. It's not so much about being concise or even good writing than it is this obsession with control over what the reader experiences, this fanatical need to instill in the reader absolutely exactly the thing we see and feel, this horrible need to prevent the reader from ever having their own interpretation.

    And I also think half the time people need special words because, quite frankly, describing the melancholy one feels on a rainy day in June when all the coffee is gone is just damn hard. It's not easy to set the mood; it's not easy to describe in such a way that the reader feels and hears and sees and smells the thing you want them to. To put these complex feelings into words, when there are actually no good words for it, takes actual skill - and we're too lazy to do the hard work. While having just the right word is often powerful, sometimes there is no right word, and that scares us.
     
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  13. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Holy cow, does this describe me when I first started writing original fiction. I've always chalked it up to a feeling of inadequacy as fledgling author, that somehow if the reader didn't picture exactly the same thing as I did it was because I had failed horribly at conveying my thoughts. I once had a reader fancast one of my MCs with an actor that was just about as opposite from the true appearance of my character as possible. I was baffled and a little upset because my MCs physical attributes and ethnic background had been referenced several times in the story. But I think in the end it turned out that she thought the actor was hot, and liked to picture him as an assortment of fictional characters. Once I learned from that and a few other examples, I came to accept the fact that as a writer you can try to guide a reader's perceptions, but no way can you control them.
     
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  14. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I totally skipped over some of the cooking terms in your book. I got the general idea, though!
     
  15. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I think many here do. It is better to use jargon (though it must be specialty specific) for those characters with
    those specific skill sets. That way you don't have to explain all the little details of why they use that term/phrase,
    it just makes sense.

    That and I like learning trade/specialty jargon. Though I avoid using words in narration that will make the reader
    have to put down the story and grab a dictionary. :p
     

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