Sunday, 24 May 2015

On saying what we mean, even on Twitter. by Jo Carroll

I'm grumbling about sloppy language, again.

As writers we should be precise. We hone our sentences until each word says exactly what we need to to say, don't we? Or course we do.

But let's unpick this.

I'll play a game with you. Let's have a continuum, from a bit of a problem to disaster, looking something like this:

Bit of a problem<----------------------------------------------------->Disaster

Now, you've been out, having a lovely time, maybe a couple of glasses of wine, and you're looking forward to a cup of tea before crawling into bed - only to find that the washing machine has leaked, the kitchen is under water, and the cat has knocked one of your most precious books onto the floor and it is ruined. Where would you place this on the continuum, and what word might you use?

Again, you leave your bag on the bus. Not only does it contain your purse, house keys and phone, it also has your laptop containing the final draft of your manuscript. It is the best novel you have ever written and you are on your way to the editor where you expected champagne. Well, maybe not champagne, but some serious backslapping and general cheer. Where would that lie, on my continuum, and what word would you use?

Your son, aged six, is diagnosed with a serious and possibly terminal illness. You face months, and possibly years, ferrying him backwards and forwards to hospitals, and countless nights holding his hand while he pretends he's not in pain or frightened. Where does that sit?

The earthquake in Nepal ...

I accept that 'disaster' is an individual experience. But - if I were to believe Facebook and Twitter - lives are at stake if someone misses a morning coffee or burns the cakes.

I would argue that, as writers, we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to choose our words meticulously. Even on Twitter. Words are precious - if we devalue them we devalue the experiences that underpin them.

You can see if I practise what I preach on my website: http://www.jocarroll.co.uk

5 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

Interesting concept and a great reminder of what really counts

Jan Needle said...

awesome! without a word of exaggeration, i agree with you a million per cent!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Sorry to have to say this, but I don't agree at all. Well, I agree about choosing words carefully in fiction. That goes without saying. But on Social Media? Not so much. I don't even think of most of the people I engage with on there as readers. Some are old friends, some casual acquaintances, a few are Facebook acquaintances who have become real friends. The readers bit is a bonus. Mostly it's an informal chat I'm having about - oh - gardens, the weather, gorgeous guys, dogs, cats, recipes, restaurants, funny things, not so funny things, things that make me happy and sad. The occasional book promotion is OK, but just as I might come in and say 'well that was a bloody disaster' as I did the other day when everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, I would say exactly the same thing on Facebook. Once I start monitoring my every word on there as I do when I'm working, I'm doomed. Doomed, I tell you.

JO said...

You don't need to apologise for disagreeing, Catherine. And I don't even think you're doomed - but I'll still try to be precise and not throw words like 'disaster' around unless it is world-shattering.

Lydia Bennet said...

I tend to agree with Catherine, colourful language and exaggeration are part of fb and twitter and don't in any way detract from real disasters - and I do enjoy the buzzfeed 'First world problems' and 'middle class problems' from twitter which are hilair. However I do agree on careful use of language as writers Jo!