Tag 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.


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).


“It Does What I Want It To”

Thea Devine today, romanticizing perhaps, a long ago moment that’s stayed with me all these years.  My husband and I were in the living room and my youngest son was at his father’s desk fiddling around on my portable IBM Selectric (yes people, there was a portable Selectric back in the day, complete with canvas carrying case).  He must have been four or five at the time, just pounding away, when he suddenly looked up, his face all lit up, and exclaimed: “It does what I want it to!”

Even after all these years, I just LOVE that idea — because it could have meant the machine, or it could have meant (I prefer to think) the words.

Words did what he wanted them to.  As in, he chose the words, put them together and they expressed what he wanted them to.

Words do what WE, the authors, want them to.

When we let them.

How often we don’t.

When they scare us to death because they mean commitment and we’re not ready for that long-term relationship with a particular WIP.

When we’re facing a blank screen and the prospect of filling four hundred more of them with what, how many words??  Or there are still three hundred and fifty empty I-can’t-think-of-a-single-plot-point pages to write.

I know this:  if you’re staring at a blank screen, you can always write something, It doesn’t have to be for your WIP of the moment. It can just be.  But you always have words, even if sometimes it feels like they’re out to get you.  Or it may feel like they’re fighting you — and winning, and that you can’t write a grammatical sentence to save your life or a description in fewer than fifteen pages.

Well, everyone — this is a call to action.  People, take control!  Re-assess those soggy sentences, wrangle those restless verbs, slice and dice those irritating adverbs, show those pushy participles who’s the boss, and you will finally and happily make those wayward words  do what youwant them to.

Has your child ever said something that struck you as being relevant to writing?  Do you feel mocked by that empty screen?  If you felt you had control of words, would that help or hinder you?

Thea Devine is the USA best-selling author of twenty-five erotic historical and contemporary romances, and is just finishing Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart to be released by Pocket Star April 2013.

The Mazel Tov Cocktail

Hello, hello, hello people of blog-land!  J Monkeys here, wishing you another happy Saturday!  As a writer, I know that words are a sacred thing, however, the ADD part of my brain has been telling my mouth to open and my foot to be solidly inserted therein for as long as I can remember.  It doesn’t help that the dang English language has so many words.  Nobody seems to have done an exhaustive count because it’s difficult to do, but there are easily a couple million words in English – maybe many more.

A couple of articles I read suggest that the average person uses a few thousand words a week (likely the same-ish bunch of words, week after week) and an “educated person” may use and understand 20,000 words or something like that.  With so many words out there, it is easy to understand how people can occasionally misspeak, like I did at lunchtime, today.

I was talking about my new…well, “favorite TV show” is a strong phrase, but suffice it to say that I really like Lizard Lick Towing.  See last week’s post for info on the show.  But I was telling my sister that I didn’t think I could be a Repo-man.  They are always getting hit and beat up, to say nothing of the occasional weapon being flashed their way or the crazy guy who threw Mazel Tov cocktails at them and set their truck on fire. 

That would be when my sister spewed her Sprite across the table. 

“Did you say Mazel Tov cocktail?” she choked out between bouts of snarfling laughter.

I hung my head – she had me.  Of course I know the term is molatov cocktail, but I was thinking about a bunch of things while I was talking, packing for my family vacation (which means packing for at least 4 people,) the novel that I’ve been slacking off, the housework to be done before leaving on said vacation, the job I applied for, the bills to be paid, the blog posts to be written before leaving at dawn.  You get the idea.  I mispoke.  There is no such thing as a Mazel Tov cocktail, and of course I hope I haven’t offended anyone, but I thought it was funny that somehow my brain mixed those two words together.  

I used to be a recruiter and people would often slightly misuse words during job interviews in what I thought was an effort to seem smarter.  And I once had a nurse at a local children’s hospital demand to know if my (then) 2-month old infant had been incarcerated.  I know some people would say that society has gone to hell in a handcart, but we aren’t so bad that we put babies in jail!

Now on the other end of the spectrum, what might it be like to live in one of those cultures where there is only one word for red?  We have easily 20 words for shades of red: red, scarlet, burgundy, cardinal, chestnut, crimson, fire, brick, lava, flame, fushia, magenta, maroon, redwood, rose, ruby, rosewood, cherry, rust, terra cotta, vermillion.  That’s just a quick wikipedia search.  I’m sure I could easily find a bunch more. 

But what would it be like if all shades of red and pink were simply called “red”?  We have so many choices for things here in the good old US of A that it only makes sense that we have lots of choice when it comes to words, too.  Back when I taught writing to Accountants, I used to call this the adjective heat map.  It’s the subtle variations between words that give English so much flavor.  But maybe, some times, we have too many words and our tongues get tied up or our brain stumbles and we end up with the Mazel Tov Cocktail.  Sigh.

Today’s Secret: It’s okay to misspeak occasionally.  In fact, it’s funny!  But when you are interviewing for a job, stick to words you really know.  🙂

Today’s Question: What’s your best gaffe?


The Richness of English

Hey ~ V here.  At this very moment (11:11am on Monday) I’ve been trying to come up with a topic for this week’s post.  As I sent my son outside to play for the 20th time this morning, I noticed what a beautiful blue sky we have right now.  And boom!  A topic was born.

English is a wonderfully rich language and I’m proud and pleased to write in it.  I’ve heard that some languages have only one word for all shades of red, or in this case, blue but English has 35 names for blue according to this websiteSapphire, cobalt, cerulean, indigo, denim, midnight, ultramarine, periwinkle.  I’m sure there are tons more.  Just open a J Crew catalog.  Do they still make J Crew catalogs?  Oh excuse me, my 1980’s-ness is showing. 

At any rate, the robustness of English comes from its history, which I talked about back on July 6th.  Click here to re-read it.  Lots of different languages came together to create English as we know it and they all left something to remember them by.  Ever wonder why we call animals one name and the food we eat from that same animal by another?  Cow/Beef.  Deer/Venison.  Pig/pork.  Bird/Fowl.  Sheep/nasty.  OK, that last one is just my personal opinion.  But Cow has a nice Anglo Saxon/Celtic sound to it and ‘beef’ sounds an awful lot like Boeuf – the french word.  Pig is Old English, pork is French.  Interestingly, the term “pig-out” only dates back to 1979…OK, perhaps I’ve now spent enough time on Dictionary.com looking at etymology.

When I taught writing in the business world, I talked about the word “heat map”.  This is where you choose a word that brings with it additional meaning.   When someone asks you, “How are you today?” your answer falls somewhere on the heat map. 

Fabulous   Fine   Good   Okay   Eh   Iffy   Bad   Terrible   Disastrous

The gray and black are fairly neutral, the cool colors are varying shades of happy and the hot colors are varying shades of bad.  It’s a heat map. 

Here’s today’s secret: when you find that your writing is heavy on the adverbs and adjectives, try to think of words that you can use that come with meaning already embedded in them to convey how someone said something, or what something looked like.  Take advantage of English’s robustness.  Not all blues are alike and many deserve their own word.

Here’s today’s question: what’s your favorite color?  Mine is blue – in all of her glorious shades, but especially Sapphire.