It’s a given — words mean things. Yet, observing the trends of the early 21st century, we’re so used to ‘spin’ that it’s really easy to forget how write sentences with direct meanings. I dread writing a sentence that is chock full of the bloodless, apathetic ‘buzz words’ of social science.
I tend to write and think in purple prose — sometimes effusive, once in a great while terse. The trick is to balance that in a narrative. Much of the language of the veterans and that of my interview subjects crackles with wit and humor — so in those sections, I need to pull back my own personality to let them inhabit the page. However, in the sections of analysis, I refuse to fall into the sawdust trap of historiography. It doesn’t need to be dry as bone to be well-written — only martinis need that much pucker :).
Yet, I know the conventions — adjectives, qualifiers and other words that illustrate the story must pass the “will it offend, be misinterpreted, or otherwise make the narrative less valid” test. I’m not talking right word in the right place kind of scrutiny — I do that, because of course there are words that belong in a sentence, that make it pulse with vibrant life — those words I seek. I mean the scrutiny that led to an entire session in one of my graduate seminars. Writing of the urbanization of the west in the early 20th century and its impact on western culture, I quoted a line from one of the songs in Oklahoma — “everythin’s up to date in Kansas City … they’ve gone about as fur as they ken go…” OMG, you’d have thought I’d thrown all known history out the window — how dare I be flippant with historical analysis? IT.WAS.NOT.DONE!
Eek! Who knew? With backup from the rather amused professor, I vigourously defended my right to be less than solemn in my prose. Choosing the right words enlivens, enriches and makes the narrative hum with life…..
I began writing this last night — I awoke this morning to the knowledge George Carlin had died. As a comedian/writer and humorist, he used words as instruments in an impressive symphony of social satire. My favourite routine by a long shot is one entitled, “stuff” about our penchant for acquisition. But I thought this one on language fit rather well with the direction of my thoughts… run your mouse over the music area and it should connect you to the video 🙂