Friday, June 26, 2015

When the very right word seems very wrong

I may be technically challenged, but in my own way, I am an internet baby, with the blog and the incurable Facebook addiction. I am an active and inactive part of many virtual writing communities. And they all have many wonderful things to offer - interesting ideas and prompts are only the tip of the awesomeness iceberg. But here is the downside, the internet has made writers out of everyone. And it is they who go on to popularize absurdities like these: 45 ways to avoid using the word very. I mean, seriously?


Firstly, will someone please explain to me the need for posters telling writers which words to use! Is it that simple to express yourself precisely, beautifully, as to pick up a thesaurus and go all Joey on your work? What kind of writer takes advice that is coolly spewed with no mention, I must add, of context. If "very wise" does a better job of expressing your thought than the mighty replacement "sagacious", then by all means, write it. Saying "vivacious" in place of "lively" because you should avoid using very is falling prey to purple prose, and let's face it, overwriting is a far greater crime than the supposedly amateur usage of 'very' to convey degree.

My second concern with lists like these - it remains to be seen if "very old" really conveys the same meaning as "ancient" or "very afraid" means exactly the same as "terrified."

Then there is the obvious question of familiarity. Words are very fascinating. The entire existence of these seemingly random arrangements of letters is wrapped up in the images they conjure in our minds. (Morphology / orthography be damned, the linguist in me agrees.) See, there is a reason I would prefer to be told, "I love you very much," to "I adore you." Associations.

A poster that tells you to avoid a word must at least attempt to explain why it is wrong. And what, then, makes a word less wrong? The right word is one that conjures up the biggest clearest most technicolour image in your head. You, the writer. 

I love rain. The refreshing, soothing smell of damp air after the first shower of the season makes me tingly. They say it's called petrichor. But sitting at the window, staring out at the lush green and still sort of wet grass, taking in that very scent, the word petrichor (though a nice sound, with the "pet" and "chor") sends no shiver of comprehension through me, which is its purpose. And any word that fails to make me jump up in recognition is, to me, very very wrong. 

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