Words like Gold Nuggets

I was reading “Fortune’s Rocks” by Anita Shreve and had a mixture of reactions throughout the experience.

First, I was dismayed at the use of such stuffy language, but I soon realized that it suited the 1899 New England setting perfectly. This was the way people in the wealthier class spoke and thought in those days.

In a short time I stopped noticing the stuffiness of the language, and felt immersed in that time and lifestyle.

So it was, that I scoffed only mildly when the mother who was hosting guests at her summer home did not want her photo taken. One of the guests had taken up photography and the hostess was not a fan of these new contraptions called cameras. The reaction of the hostess was not out of character, but had me chuckling about her overly sensitive personality.

When I read on, I was absolutely thrilled with Anita Shreve’s description of the photography session that followed.

This quote from the book tells how it played out as the other guests, one by one, sat to have their photos taken.

Even Olympia’s mother, in the end, relents and allows herself to be photographed, albeit behind a veil with eyes lowered, flinching each time she hears the shutter click, as though she might be shot.

This description had me laughing out loud, as I imagined the scene. It was then that I realized that much of the writing was so precisely worded that I was able to picture it clearly in my mind. Reading this book became like watching a movie.

I kept chuckling over the above quote for some time and finally decided I would write a short note to the author to tell her how much I was enjoying her book. I Googled her name to get a webpage contact, but immediately the search told me that Anita Shreve had died on March 29, 2018 at the young age of 71.  My happy mood was dashed and I felt shocked and saddened to find out this bad news.

Still, Anita has left a legacy of many fine books for us to enjoy.

Now I am wondering if you readers out there have had similar discoveries of passages that are nuggets of entertainment.

If you have, why not share them in your comments. Book title, author, and quote. We’d love to see what you’ve found.

 

Hyphens and Dashes

These little lines that float in the air between numbers and letters can certainly give a writer a headache.
I’d like to talk about three most commonly used “lines,” the hyphen (often simply called a dash), the en dash, and the em dash. You can think of the en dash as a line that is about as long as the typed letter “n,” and the em dash as one about the length of a typed “m.”
Here they are from shortest to longest.
– hyphen
– en dash
— em dash
When do we use them?
Frequently.
Does it matter which one we use?
Very much so.
Let’s begin with the shortest. The hyphen is mainly used to separate word parts such as when you are separating a word into syllables, but more often it is used to join two words that belong together.
Syllables:
com-mon
pro-noun
re-turn
In compound words:
Not all compound words are separated by a hyphen.
Some examples are:
downwind, houseboat, farmhouse, driveway, postman.
Some compound words need a hyphen.
Examples:
long-term, mother-in-law, ready-made, fifty-fifty.
If you’re not sure when to use the hyphen between the two parts of the word, use your dictionary and try to remember the word for next time.
Hyphens are used as separators in numbers that are not inclusive. Telephone numbers, ISBNs, or social security numbers, for example.
1-800-753-8990
0-546-19832-5
Or you can use hyphens to spell out a word.
My name is Anneli. It’s spelled A-n-n-e-l-i.
Now that I’ve told you we use hyphens to separate numbers, I have to add that if the numbers are inclusive, such as “one to ten,” and usually if you can say from one number “through” to another number, you need to use an en dash, which is just a  bit longer than a hyphen.
Basically, with the en dash, you are saying “up to and including.”
Some examples:
The years 1970–1980 were the best of my life.
For more information, see chapters 8–10.
Come by for a visit on Saturday, 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
I live at 395–5th St.
Then we have the em dash (—). It is mainly used to set off words or phrases that explain something in the middle of a sentence when an abrupt separation is required and a comma won’t do the trick. Also, a sudden break or interruption in conversation can end with an em dash.
My favourite artists—Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Cezanne—were not represented at the exhibition.
I looked like I had aged  ten years overnight—I hadn’t slept a wink—but it was too late to worry about it now.
We stopped at Amy’s house—what a party she had going on—to pick up my sister.
“What should I—?”
*****
There are many more uses for each of the dashes, but these are the most common ones. Sorting these out would be a good start. After that, we’ll see….

Clear Writing

I love flowers, but not in my reading and writing. Some would-be writers use flowery language thinking that this impresses the reader.

You know the feeling you get when someone flatters you too much and you know it’s mostly b.s. because it is so over the top. You just want to roll your eyes, turn around, and stick your fingers down your throat.

Too many unnecessary descriptors are part of the problem with this kind of language. Too many big words chosen to impress rather than to convey a message. Too much verbiage.

Here are some examples of padded language and how it could be written instead.

Flowery

Joe and I are preparing an elaborate springtime barbecue with delicious nibblies for all our wonderful friends. We would be thrilled to have your scintillating company and that  of your lovely partner when you come and enjoy a happy afternoon with the rest of our honoured guests.

Direct

We would be pleased to have you and Mary attend an afternoon barbecue with friends at our home.

Flowery

I am convinced that you will have a wonderful afternoon while the red robins and the chatty finches keep us company with their trilling melodies, a sure sign that spring is truly arriving in our little corner of the world.

Direct

We can enjoy listening to the spring birds in the afternoon.

Flowery

I can visualize the bustling scene, as animated, vociferous guests demand more bubbling refreshments.

Direct

I can imagine the busy party guests shouting for more champagne.

*****

Using flowery words and too many of them becomes a turnoff for the reader. A related problem is using too many long words when a shorter one would do. If you are trying to convey a clear message, use shorter sentences, and words that are familiar to the reader. Write the way you would talk, unless you are writing a business letter or a report. But even then, keeping the language clear and concise is important. Flowery words have no place in serious writing. The aim is to express yourself clearly, not to show how many adjectives and adverbs you can cram into one sentence.

In Robert Gunning’s book, The Technique of Clear Writing, he has a long list of words that could easily be replaced by more familiar words. Here are some:

abandon         give up, desert

abatement      decrease

abbreviate      shorten

abhorrent       hateful

venturous      bold

voluminous    bulky

Often you can substitute a more familiar word for one that sounds as if it were chosen merely to impress.

If you tend to get too wordy when something simple would suffice, consider this limerick about using too many words.

There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why that was,
He replied “It’s because
I always try to fit as many words into the last line as ever I possibly can.”