Category Archives: words

The Language of Words

PJ Sharon here. When I began studying the writing craft about eight years ago, I hooked up with a retired high school English teacher friend of mine who suggested that I needed to learn how to “speak about language.” What she meant was that I needed to understand the difference between parts of speech, learn the ways in which we use language, and be able to differentiate the tools that help us define communication. More than basic grammar and usage, I needed to re-learn the difference between homonyms and synonyms, and idioms and euphemisms.

I find all these terms confusing on a good day! To help me keep it all straight, I get my word and grammar fix from Daily Writing Tips, a newsletter subscription that sends me…yes, daily writing tips. It keeps me learning new things, and often helps me drag some old reminders from the recesses of my 10th grade brain. I found the definitions of paranym and paronym this week and was delighted to learn a new term. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you should! http://www.dailywritingtips.com/

I don’t know about you, but differentiating between a paranym and a paronym would never have even been on my radar before I became a writer, began hanging out at writing conferences and taking workshops where people smarter than I seemed to understand this “foreign” language of English in a way that made me want to be “in on the secret.”

Since I’ll be at the National RWA conference next week, I thought I’d study up. After all, it’s not ALL about the shoes! And no, my feet would not be caught dead in these, LOL. I’ll be wearing flats.picture038

Here are those definitions…in case you’re interested. Courtesy of Daily Writing Tips and Wikipedia.

I’ll start with euphemisms. This one, I get. Wiki defines Euphemism as a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive.

Examples of a euphemism:

“Eliminate” in place of “kill,” “kick the bucket” instead of “die,” or “unmotivated” rather than “lazy.”

An Idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.

Examples:

It’s “raining cats and dogs,” she’s “pulling your leg,” “it’s not rocket science,” or you “spilled the beans.”

Paranyms- A euphemistic word or phrase whose literal sense is contrary to the reality of what it refers to, used especially to disguise or misrepresent the truth about something. In other words, words whose meaning is generally the opposite of that intended by the speaker.

Example: “Everlasting life:” Or in other words, “death.”

Paronyms- A word which is derived from another word or from a word with the same root, and having a related or similar meaning, (e.g. childhood and childish). Another definition is a word similar in sound or appearance to another; especially, a near homonym.

This is where all those pesky confusing words come from.

affect/effect, farther/further, alternately/alternatively, interested/interesting, corrupted/corrupt, adopt/adapt, continuous/contiguous

If you want to know the difference between Heteronyms, Homonyms, Homographs and Homophones, check out this article by Lee Masterson of the Fiction Factor, an online magazine for fiction writers that also has great tips on the language of words. http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/hhhh.html

I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson.

Which vocabulary definitions throw you for a loop? (Yep…I used an idiom).

 

A poet and I didn’t know it!

PJ here. I’ve just returned from a week in Nashville, Tennessee, home of some of the most amazing song writers and musicians of our time. My husband and I had a lovely time there, celebrating the wedding of my eldest step-son and seeing the sights, but I’m always happy to come back to new England, especially with this amazing stretch of weather we’ve had.
Pond pic in the fall In fact, if it gets any prettier up here in the hills, I’ll never want to leave home again.

One of the awesome parts of being in Nashville was hanging out with all of the talented musicians who play in all the Honkey Tonk bars on Broadway. it made me wonder if I’d missed my calling.

Like many writers, I started when I was young, just learning the nuts and bolts of the English language and exploring the intricacies of stringing words together to tell a story. My first efforts were very elementary, and I soon lost interest to more physical pursuits, but once I hit my teens and turned to expressing myself through poetry, my writing blossomed. I had more than one revelation about myself and my world view from re-reading those angst-filled sonnets I wrote about my broken heart and my relatively tragic teenage life. I continued to keep journals and write poems through my twenties, pouring my heart onto the page in an effort to understand myself better, to free my chaotic emotions, and to cope with the challenges of life as a single parent. I used my writing as a way to tell my story in bits and pieces of lyrical prose, snapshots of my spiritual and emotional growth. I haven’t written poetry in years, but I still remember the cathartic power of the exercise.

I want to be clear here; I don’t read much poetry, and never did, although reading the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran changed my life and probably saved my soul at a critical point in my young life. I occasionally pick up a romantic poem by Pablo Neruda and find inspiration in his impassioned writing.

I find poetry to be a bit like bourbon—it’s a lot of work to enjoy it. You have to take it in, swirl it around, ruminate on it, and then decide if you enjoy it enough to swallow it. Usually if you can get past the taste of it on your palette and the burn on your throat as it goes down, you might decide it’s worth trying again. You might even grow to love it passionately, every experience superior to the last.

I could still pass on the bourbon, but writing poetry hooked me in, even if the likes of Tennyson and Dickinson left behind a bit of a funky aftertaste. The interesting thing about writing poetry from my teenage perspective was that it was a safe place for me to express painful emotions, dark thoughts, and deeply rooted beliefs that I was constantly questioning. The cool thing was that being a music lover, I saw how popular music trends seemed to follow suit. It’s no wonder that the angst of a heart rending ballad always resonated with me. Music, as with poetry, enables you to tell a complete story in very few words—including a happy ending if you so choose.

When I began writing PIECES OF LOVE, my next to be released contemporary YA romance, I decided my main character, Ali, was going to sing and play guitar. Of course, being sixteen, she hesitates to share her talents with others for fear of not being good enough—a circumstance we can all relate to, I’m sure. In writing Ali’s story, it dawned on me that I would have to give her an opportunity to explore her feelings through her music.

opry land guitarSo on my lunch break at work one day, I wrote a poem for Ali. Once I wrote the poem—a desperate and emotionally charged anthem to a lost loved one—I then decided the words needed to be set to music. Those of you who know me, know that I love to sing. I don’t play an instrument and I can’t read or write music, but I can carry a tune. So I started trying to put the words to music in my head. After a few short minutes, a tune came to me. I got so excited, I downloaded a recording app onto my phone and recorded the song so I wouldn’t forget the tune. In about a half hours’ time, I’d written my very first song, called Pieces of Love. I also had a new title for my book!

Lucky for me, I have a neighbor who is an awesome guitarist. He has agreed to help me record the song and use it as a theme song, which will be accessible from a link within the e-book. Pretty cool, huh?

So what about you all? Do you like poetry? Hate it? Do you read it often? Who’s your favorite poet? Or are you like me—preferring to write it instead of read it?

Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

Don’t besmirch my scrumdiddlyumptious nerd redoux…

Hiddey-ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Before all else, let me take a moment to apologize for missing you last Saturday.  I experienced severe technical difficulty.  In fact, I wrote this butter-lovin post three times because it disappeared into the ether the first couple of times I wrote it.  I thought it posted correctly the third time, but alas, no.  So, in the immortal words of Whitesnake: here I go again.

Other than my undying love of Mr. Alexander Skarsgard, I’m not terribly likely to post pictures of hotties these days, but check out this scrumdiddlyumptious nerd:

matthew gray gubbler

Now, before you besmirch my scrumdiddlyumptious nerd by wondering what he has to do with writing, did you know that authors make up new words all the time?  It’s a perk we enjoy.

In fact, Mr. Will.I.am Shakespeare invented the word ‘besmirch’ along with 1700 other words we still use today.  (J’s favorite Will.I.am song) Check out this cool list.  If you click on the word in that list you will go to a notation of where he first used it – what play.  God I love the internet!

Scrumdiddlyumptious comes to us care of Roald Dahl – he coined that term to describe one of Mr. Wonka’s chocolate bars back in 1964.

And of course, nerd is an Anglo-Saxon word coming to us from William the Conqueror’s Doomsday book.  Okay, okay – I’m kidding.  Dr. Seuss invented “nerd” in If I ran the Zoo, published in 1950.   I was trolling YouTube for a Dr. Seussish link here and found this HYSTERICAL Epic Rap Battle Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss – watch if you dare.  It’s PG-13 esque.

JK Rowling brought us Voldemort, Muggle and Dementor, just to name a few.

Whether it’s a new word all together or a new meaning for an existing word, or even just making a verb out of a noun (see John Pinnette’s rant on the verb “to juice”) authors do this all the time and you can, too.  Pull your diva-ness around you like an invisibility cloak, proclaim your new word to the world and own it.

Today’s Secret: You can be an inventor – maybe of something that will last long after you are gone.  We aren’t all Billy the Shake, but we can all leave our mark.  That’s one of the great things about English – it’s vibrant and there is always room for more.

Today’s Question: Do you have a favorite word?  Do you know where it comes from?  Who invented it?

PS: In case you don’t recognize the scrumdiddlyumptious nerd, that’s Matthew Gray Gubler.  If Shemar Moore wasn’t enough – he’s a second reason to feast your peepers on CBS’s gritty crime drama Criminal Minds.

Don’t besmirch my scrumdiddlyumptious nerd

Hiddey-ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Before all else, let me take a moment to apologize for missing you last Saturday.  I experienced severe technical difficulty.  In fact, I wrote this butter-lovin post three times because it disappeared into the ether the first couple of times I wrote it.  I thought it posted correctly the third time, but alas, no.  So, in the immortal words of Whitesnake: here I go again.

Other than my undying love of Mr. Alexander Skarsgard, I’m not terribly likely to post pictures of hotties these days, but check out this scrumdiddlyumptious nerd:

matthew gray gubbler

Now, before you besmirch my scrumdiddlyumptious nerd by wondering what he has to do with writing, did you know that authors make up new words all the time?  It’s a perk we enjoy.  

In fact, Mr. Will.I.am Shakespeare invented the word ‘besmirch’ along with 1700 other words we still use today.  (J’s favorite Will.I.am song) Check out this cool list If you click on the word in that list you will go to a notation of where he first used it – what play.  God I love the internet!

Scrumdiddlyumptious comes to us care of Roald Dahl – he coined that term to describe one of Mr. Wonka’s chocolate bars back in 1964. 

And of course, nerd is an Anglo-Saxon word coming to us from William the Conqueror’s Doomsday book.  Okay, okay – I’m kidding.  Dr. Seuss invented “nerd” in If I ran the Zoo, published in 1950.   I was trolling YouTube for a Dr. Seussish link here and found this HYSTERICAL Epic Rap Battle Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss – watch if you dare.  It’s PG-13 esque.

JK Rowling brought us Voldemort, Muggle and Dementor, just to name a few. 

Whether it’s a new word all together or a new meaning for an existing word, or even just making a verb out of a noun (see John Pinnette’s rant on the verb “to juice”) authors do this all the time and you can, too.  Pull your diva-ness around you like an invisibility cloak, proclaim your new word to the world and own it.

Today’s Secret: You can be an inventor – maybe of something that will last long after you are gone.  We aren’t all Billy the Shake, but we can all leave our mark.  That’s one of the great things about English – it’s vibrant and there is always room for more.

Today’s Question: Do you have a favorite word?  Do you know where it comes from?  Who invented it?

PS: In case you don’t recognize the scrumdiddlyumptious nerd, that’s Matthew Gray Gubler.  If Shemar Moore wasn’t enough – he’s a second reason to feast your peepers on CBS’s gritty crime drama Criminal Minds