Saturday, 28 February 2009

What's in a Word?

I love words. I enjoy writing and don't do enough for leisure although I have started to write a book. I'm not trained and haven't done any courses for creative writing, so I'm not taking it too seriously - just for fun - a cathartic exercise like this blog?

Ernest Hemingway once said, "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector".

Spoonerisms, made more popular by the Two Ronnies and the first class script writing abilities of Ronnie Barker (Gerald Wiley) and others, are one of my favourite word play giggles. My mother recently stated while sorting out items for recycling, that she needed to go to the 'battle bonk'.

Tom Swifties can be fun too. Work it out without me explaining: 'Doctor, I keep thinking I'm a machine gun,' said the patient repeatedly. 'I've gained over fifty pounds,' he remarked roundly. 'Welcome to the Teetotallers ball,' said the MC drily, and a clever one: 'That chicken has no beak' the farmer pronounced impeccably.

I am guilty as anyone of regular tautology: a waste of or redundant language. A good example is 'an absolute certainty;' if it's a certainty - it's absolute! Why use two words instead of one? Other examples are 'forward planning' - what else would it be? 'Free gift;' gifts are generally free. 'Past history;' yes it is - one or the other.

Cliches are my favourite and I can't say too many sentences without one, but what do they mean? Adding colour to verbal language is easy but annoying after a while; avoiding cliche in the written word is essential. Here's a few of my worst examples - sorry. 'At the end of the day,' 'Between the Devil and the deep blue sea,' 'Doom and gloom merchants,' 'Not to put too fine a point on it,' 'Tarred with the same brush,' 'To all intents and purposes,' and finally for now because there are too many to speak of, 'There but for the grace of God...' Avoid cliches like the plague (groan!)

I would imagine non UK people can find the English language complex. I know UK people find it complex! Even if you know what the word means, the context is different for different people. Take for example the British meal time and its associated nouns. An invitation to dinner from strangers could be disastrous - what time of the day do they mean? Some people eat Luncheon around 1 pm as the main meal while others eat dinner (sometimes called supper) at 7 - 8 pm. Others have dinner at midday and a main meal called tea at 6 pm with a light supper before bedtime. Others have a lunch snack before noon, dinner at midday, tea at 4 pm and supper during the evening. High tea, God forbid is a meat or fish dish served late afternoon. Thanks to the Sunday Times Wordpower book for this one.

Mother, "Bobby's teacher says he should get an encyclopedia."
Father, "Let him walk to school like I did."
Giles Brandreth, 1980.

Chat soon


No comments:

Post a Comment