Tag Archives: words

Writing: Profanity and Obscenties

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Although it is often used to denote any objectionable word, profanity literally means words that are considered profane—that is, words proscribed by religious doctrine. (Proscribed generally means forbidden by written order.) In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this primarily means taking the Lord’s name in vain (that is, not in prayer).

For the love of God, stop complaining.

Jesus Christ, look at the size of that thing!

In writing as in life, profanity can seem gratuitous or, worse, a thinly veiled shock tactic. And it can offend.  All of which might jolt the reader out of the unfolding action.  As a result, it’s important to use profanity only when it’s adding something essential.

I have to admit that when a book has so much profanity and obscenity that it’s the only thing that I keep seeing instead of the story, I quit reading the book or watching the movie. I was raised in a time when four letter words and obscenity were insulting and crude. They were used, but not in mixed company. People used clichés as, “cussed like a sailor.”

Obscene means something disgusting or morally abhorrent, often connoting sex. The f-word is considered the most objectionable of these. (Adding “mother” as a prefix ups the ante.)

Non-objectionable variants of the present participle form of the word—besides “fugging”—include “fecking,” “freaking,” “flipping” and “fricking.” (To be honest, I really don’t know why that “u” is so important.)

“Screw” is a milder word. Notice that both the f-word and “screw” are used not just too literally describe the act of intercourse, but to connote “taking advantage of”:

Don’t go to that repair shop—they screwed me out of $500 for a brake job I didn’t need.

Words referring to the pelvic area, male and female, are also considered obscenities.

To help you understand why I think like I do let me tell you a personal story that I remember as if it were yesterday instead of the 1950’s.  I was a small child maybe five at the most.  My father and my uncle were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking. I can’t say they were drunk because I was not old enough to really be aware, but I do remember a bottle setting on the table.  I was sitting in the kitchen floor by our refrigerator watching and listening to what was going on.

My dad was talking and gesturing with his hands.  I heard my father say that four letter word and the next thing I knew my uncle knocked my father out of the chair to the floor.  My uncle then told my father not to say that another time in front of me.

I asked my mom about what happened and she told me that daddy had used a word that he shouldn’t have. That one event impressed my five year old mind so strongly that anytime I hear it, I see my dad hitting the floor.

It seems to me that today’s language is filled with four letter and curse words, and is accepted as norm by mostly young people. Truth be told, I still find it offensive no matter how much I hear it.

In writing language choices should stay true to the character; however, the narrative isn’t riddled with profanity.  Using restraint allows one to achieve voice effectively and maintain authenticity while avoiding the likelihood of profanity’s potential pitfalls.  Such language can seem be a departure for a character, and that contrast can also be revealing.

When profanity influences characters or becomes pertinent to the unfolding action, it can be necessary.  In the autobiography Black Boy, Richard Wright uses strong profanity and racial epithets to show the ways in which white characters try to intimidate and terrorize him.

When used incorrectly, profanity can be a shortcut to emotion and the reader is bound to remain unconvinced.  Try to convey emotion through action, gesture or different dialogue for a more nuanced effect.

 

Not Wanting To Make Things Up

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wordsAlmost all of us draw on autobiographical material when writing. This leads to a lot of powerful prose, and probably saves a ton of money in psychiatric bills. But it can also cause major problems with fiction writing, because it can make it hard for the writer to make stuff up. And if you’re not making something up, you’re not making something up, you’re writing a journal entry, which can be beautiful, but it is not a story.

Say you are inspired by your Uncle Louis, a real one of a kind sort of guy who was one of the most colorful figures you ever knew. You always thought you wanted to write about him. He applied for a patent on a copying machine, and he got it. You write up the story, give it to me, and I say, “That’s great that Uncle Louis got the patent, but the story would have more tension if he didn’t get it.”

“But he did get it,” you say.

“Yes,” I say, “but the story would be better if he didn’t.”

“But he did get it. Patent number 3333.”

“Well,” I say, “what if a woman steals his patent then?”

“But he was married to Aunt Irene for 50 years.”

You see where I’m going with this? Keeping the story too tied to Uncle Louis makes it difficult for the writer to use his imagination. It’s locking him into someone else’s story. It’s taking away the author’s power.

What to do? First, think of why Uncle Louis appeals to you. Why do you want to write his story? Is it because you admire his fighting spirit? Can you create a character who has the same fighting spirit but is different than Uncle Louis? Maybe, instead of making your character a little old man, you could make him a young man with red hair. Or, make him into a woman. The key thing is to take ownership of him. He’s no longer your uncle. He’s your character. You can do with him what you want.

We All Get There

Writing Tips

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cord

musical chordHere is another tip for you. I do hope it is helpful.

Cord vs. Chord

Latin chorda referred to catgut used to make the strings of a musical instrument. Chorda entered French with the spelling corde and the meaning “string for a musical instrument.”

English took the word from French, but eventually dropped the e and spelled it cord.

In English, cord came to mean different kinds of string or rope. The earliest illustration in the OED (1305) shows that “a cord” could be used to bind a person hand and foot; by 1330, cord could refer to the hangman’s rope.

In modern usage, cord is string composed of several strands twisted or woven together. By cord, modern speakers usually mean a light rope–the kind used for a clothesline–or a thick string–the sort used to wrap a parcel for mailing. In earlier usage, cord could refer to the ropes of a ship.

The OED shows that cord was used as a medical term for a body part that resembles a string, for example, a ligament.

The homophones cord and chord are often confused–with good reason.

As most of the readers of DWT know by now, some of our oddest spellings were born in the 16th century thanks to helpful grammarians who wanted to “restore” Latin spellings that weren’t missing. My favorite example is the alteration of the perfectly practical English spelling dette (“something owed”) to debt, to make it “accord” with Latin debitum.

The 16th century tinkerers decided that the spelling chord should replace cord because that was closer to Latin chorda. For a time, medical writers wrote about “spermatic chords,” “spinal chords,” and “umbilical chords,” but modern medical usage prefers the spelling cord.

For a time, the spelling cord was also applied to the musical term that meant “agreement of musical sounds,” or “a combination of three or more simultaneous notes according the rules of musical harmony.”

The musical term was spelled cord for a very good reason: it was a clipping of the word accord, a verb meaning “to bring into agreement.” Musical “cords” were sounds that agreed.

As it turns out, having different spellings for each term is quite useful. The current usage is:

cord: string
chord: agreement of musical sounds

Unfortunately, some speakers get mixed up when it comes to the anatomical term “vocal cords”:

Do you want to strengthen your weak vocal chords, so you can become an amazing singer?

How to Keep Your Vocal Chords in Good Condition

Although used to sing, vocal cords are not spelled “vocal chords.”

I’ve two more factoids to share before leaving the fascinating subject of cord:

The smokeless explosive called cordite got its name from its “curiously string-like appearance.”

A quantity of wood is called a cord because it was originally measured with a string.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_8?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=dobyns+chronicles+shirley+mclain&sprefix=dobyns+c%2Caps%2C239

Insults and Aspersions

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This is from Daily Tips about the  proper use of insults and Aspersions.  Have a blessed day!     Shirley

 

Insults and Aspersions

Like the rabbit Thumper in Bambi, I was brought up on the admonition, “if you can’t say nuthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”

 

How times have changed! Not only has insult come to pervade public discourse, the Web abounds with insult generators to assist the invective-challenged.

 

For instance, creative types who want to add a little class to their abuse can consult a Shakespearean insult generator.

 

The word insult derives from Latin insultare, “to attack”; literally, “to jump on.” In medicine, an insult is anything that attacks or causes injury to the body. The verb insult means to display a scornful attitude towards someone by speech or behavior.

 

As I have always understood the word, an insult is a deliberate attack on someone’s feelings, but there’s some evidence that for some folks, even a remark devoid of hurtful intention may be construed as an insult if it disagrees with one’s own views.

 

This is from an article offering advice about how to respond to insults:

 

It can be hard to know what to do when someone makes a thoughtful remark that is insulting to your convictions, values or beliefs

I can see how one person’s “thoughtful remark” might be offensive to someone of differing beliefs, but I don’t see how it’s insulting.

 

Here are some synonyms for the noun insult:
jibe
affront
slight
barb
slur
indignity
injury
libel
slander
declamation
abuse [uh-BYUS]
disparagement
aspersion (usually in the plural)
dig
crack
put-down
slap in the face
kick in the teeth
cheap shot
low blow

 

Here are synonyms for the verb to insult:
abuse [uh-BYUZE]
be rude to
slight
disparage
discredit
libel
slander
malign
defame
denigrate
cast aspersions on
call someone names
put someone down
affront
humiliate
wound
badmouth
dis
calumniate

 

Note on aspersions:
A reader asked me if one can do anything with aspersions other than cast them. The answer seems to be, “No.” The word aspersions comes from the verb asperse, “to besprinkle or bespatter.”

Arrive To Vs. Arrive At

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A prepositional error usually associated with ESL learners seems to be gaining ground with native English speakers. It’s the error of following the verb arrive with the preposition to:

The 23-year-old actress arrived to her taping of The Tonight Show… sporting a long blonde beard to match her hair.

When many early Europeans first arrived to our shores, they were surprised at the lack of organized law enforcement.

As soon we arrived to the restaurant she made sure she was secretive about my daughters [sic] B’day surprise!!!

Ipanema Flip Flops have arrived to Tony Walker & Co.

To is a preposition of movement. One travels to a restaurant, but arrives at a restaurant.

Prepositions that can follow arrive include at, in, and on.

Use at to express arrival at a small place:

The 23-year-old actress arrived at her taping of The Tonight Show.

As soon as we arrived at the restaurant, they brought out the cake.

Use in to express arrival when the destination is a large one like a country or a city:

We arrived in France in November.

When did you first arrive in Milwaukee?

The sentence that has the Europeans arriving “to our shores” can be rewritten with on:

When many early Europeans first arrived on our shores, they were surprised at the lack of organized law enforcement.

Words Beginning With For- and Fore-

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writingHello everyone, this morning I am posting from Daily Writing tips about some common problem words. Have a great weekend and blessings to all.
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English has several words that begin with the prefixes for- and fore- Sometimes the prefix means “before” or “in front of.” Sometimes it means “outside,” a meaning derived from an Old French element related to modern French hors, as in the French borrowing hors d’oeuvre, “outside the main course.”

Perhaps the most frequently misspelled of this category is the word found at the beginning of many books: Foreword.

A book’s foreword is a preface, a brief essay not necessarily essential for the understanding of the text of a book and commonly written by someone other than the author of the text. Confusion arises from the existence of the adjective forward.

As an adjective, forward is used to describe something that is in front of or ahead of something else. On a ship, things located towards the front are said to be forward, for example, the “forward hold.” A “forward child” in a positive sense is a clever child, precocious for its years. In a negative sense, a “forward child” is like the ones on television who exchange quips, insults, and double entendres with adults; again, the sense is that the child is ahead of its years.

The three verbs forecast, foretell, and foresee all mean “to predict” or “to prophesy,” but have different connotations:

The weatherman forecast showers for Monday. (prediction based on analysis of data)
The gypsy foretold Gwen’s marriage to a rancher. (prediction based on mysterious knowledge)
Harold’s business experience enabled him to foresee the consequences of his partner’s decision. (prediction based on personal experience)

Some other verbs beginning with fore- in which the sense is “happening before” are:

forebode: to announce beforehand.
Forebode and forbid come from OE verbs with similar meanings. Forbid now means “to command a person not to do something.” Forebode means to announce ahead of time. The word forbode carries a connotation of dread, for example, “Vanishing act of middle class forebodes turbulent time.”

The verb bode, on the other hand, means simply “to predict” or “to give promise of something” and may be used in either a positive or a negative context:
Stephen Colbert’s Super-Charming ‘Late Show’ Appearance Bodes Well for His New Gig.
Scottish independence does not bode well for its economy

foreordain: to determine in advance.
“His hostility drives the drama in the first act, and his frenetic dancing in the second makes his demise seem foreordained.”

forewarn: to warn or caution in advance.
This quotation from Charles Kingsley has become a proverb: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” (i.e., knowledge of what is about to happen is like having a weapon with which to defend yourself).

In the following nouns the prefix has the sense of “before”:

forelock: A lock of hair growing from the fore part of the head, just above the forehead.
In old novels you’ll find references to farm workers and other social inferiors touching or tugging their forelocks to show respect to their superiors: “There was plenty of bobbing from the girls and pulling of forelocks from the boys.” The expression “to take opportunity by the forelock” means to take advantage of a situation as aggressively as possible: “He seized opportunity by the forelock and secured the best aid possible in his business…”

forefather: an ancestor, one who has come before.

foresight: The action or faculty of foreseeing what must happen. For example, “[Jacob Little] had unusual foresight, which at times seemed to amount to prescience.”

In the following verbs, the prefix is from the French borrowing that meant “outside”:

forbear: to abstain or refrain from
“The defendants were asked to forbear to arrest Mr. Swift.”

forswear: to swear falsely; to abandon or renounce
“As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere.” –A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I, i, 240-241.

forfeit: to lose the right to; give up
“The execution of a murderer does not violate his right to life, because he forfeited that right when he committed a murder.” –John Locke

forget: to lose remembrance of

forgive: to give up resentment

forsake: to give up, renounce

foreclose: to preclude, hinder, or prohibit (a person) from (an action). Although spelled fore-, the prefix in foreclose has the “out” meaning, as in “to shut out.”

Finally, there are two words that look almost alike, but have quite different origins:

forebear (noun): An ancestor, forefather, progenitor (usually more remote than a grandfather).
This noun is formed from the prefix fore- (before) and an old word, beer. This beer has nothing to do with the beverage. Instead, it comes from the verb to be. A be-er is one who exists. A forebear existed before you did.

forbear (verb): to abstain or refrain from something.
“Woman, forbear that weeping!”

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Get Realistic

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I’m going to discuss dialogue a little further.  I believe a lot of people believe dialogue is easy to write.  I for one don’t think it is.  You are supposed to keep it realistic, but not make it exactly how we talk.  We can’t use all the um’s, that’s, you know, ect.

Writing use to have a formal more formal dialogue.  Now we tend to try to write closer to a natural conversation.  The best way to get a feel for realistic dialogue is listening to someone’s conversation with another person.  Yes, you will have to ease drop, but it could be fun.  The dialogue we write for fiction has to have more umph, focus and relevance to it than a normal conversation, so it is not boring to the reading.  Use contractions whenever possible. We have to get to the point of the conversation much quicker.  Your dialogue needs to show your characters and what emotion

  • Do not use dialogue simply to convey information. Dialogue should set the scene, advance action, give insight into characterization, remind the reader, and foreshadow. Dialogue should always be doing many things at once.
  • Dialogue can have grammatical errors, but you do have to keep the characters voice in mind and keep it readable.  You do not want it to sound as if you are giving a speech, unless that’s what your character is doing.

    Word choice tells a reader a lot about a person: appearance, ethnicity, sexuality, background, and morality. Pick your words carefully because you are conveying lots of information about your character.

  • Todays video is on writing dialogue for plays, but it gives some good advice which can be applied to any genre.  Enjoy
  • http://youtu.be/TZXcQemh8n8