Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Say What You Mean

by Tamara Passey

Or mean what you say.
I happen to love how one word can have layers of meaning.
Maybe it is my need for efficiency or love of multi-tasking that draws me to words that can do double duty for me in a sentence. It could be my years of writing poetry where brevity reigns supreme and multi-meaning words sort of have a royalty to them. If you have read O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, the opening sentence says this, "One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away." Maybe not the most gripping hook, but 308 pages later (*spoiler alert*) after Alexandra's neighbor Frank, kills her brother with a gun (i.e. blows him away), she visits Frank in prison, and on the way home she thinks, "of how she and Frank had been wrecked by the same storm. . . " I suppose there is more here to the story - but those few words with their dual meanings bring the story full circle.
Of course, extra meanings can spell trouble.
I was driving my oldest daughter to junior high yesterday. She was lamenting how only half of her long hair was curling. I mentioned if she cut it shorter, it would be lighter and more of her hair might curl.
Two hours later, at home, my four-year-old (who had been riding in the backseat) comes to me and says, "Mom, I'd like you to cut my hair."
"What? Why?"
"Because I am going to be Cinderella for Halloween and she has blond hair. So you need to cut mine."
I was still baffled until she explained,
"You said, 'if you cut your hair it gets lighter'"

Ahh. Words. Tricky, aren't they? I'm surprised they let us use them without a license.
So go put your words to work for you and have a great writing day!

7 comments:

  1. Great point and a cute story. Sometimes choosing just the right words takes some time. One of my favorite slogans (of a famous ad agency) is "Truth Well Told".

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  2. Yes you do have to be careful. My parents were always telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up...I wanted to be tall, blond and blue-eyed. I'm not and we'll just leave it at that, ha. But I took what they said literally.

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  3. The English language is crazy that way.

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  4. I like it when a word hits on more than one meaning. But I loved the misunderstanding. That probably happens more often.

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  5. LOL..Love your story Tamara, and your point. The other day when my son-in-law told his 6-year-old to watch his mouth, his 5 year-old asked, "I can't see my mouth. Can you see your mouth?"
    Yeah we really do need to watch what we say, even if we can't actually see our mouths!

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  6. Nice post, Tamara. Your kiddos sound so cute!

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  7. I thought you were going to tell your oldest daughter to cut the other half (that didn't curl). Tee hee.
    It's a good thing we don't need a license to use words--then there would be more laws surrounding them.

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