Specific

imageThe dilemma of the writer is to find the specific word that will properly portray his or her idea, her image, her concept.  I remember a wise teacher responding to a student in a class I attended. The student said,” I know the answer but I don’t know how to express it in words.”  The teacher replied,” Then the truth is that you do not know the answer.”  The moment passed and the teacher was branded as “mean” or “picky”.  This idea stayed with me, however, and I realized on  that day that words are precise tools to express precise ideas.  Some of my friends who are properly educated scientists rightly say that mathematics or physics also express precise ideas.  As a young and inexperienced person with little guidance, I chose to drop math, physics and chemistry as soon as I could and so I am left with words as my tools in expressing myself and in appreciating what others have to say.  Let us take as an example the picture above.  If I want to say something about the snow that is hanging in suspended curves from the horizontal branches, I have to search for the specific word that will awake an image in the mind of my reader.  Should I say the snow is folded over the branches?  Somehow, to me, that evokes the notion of paper being folded.  It feels stiff and angular and that’s not what I want.  I could say the snow is draped over the twigs.  That sounds better but for some reason “draped” brings up the image of something bigger, like a curtain.  That means I have to modify the language and say something like ,”The snow is draped in shallow folds over the still branches. “.  I’ll have to say something, too, about how still the air is or my reader won’t believe that these delicate folds can remain suspended over the twigs and the power lines. The whole exercise is a concious effort to use the words that will touch and inform the reader.  The writer hopes to engage, retain and perhaps amuse the reader too.  So, the  specific word is pretty important.  “It’s sort of like, eh, you know, kind of hanging-like.” will just not cut it.

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