Oct 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!


  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".

  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.

  3. The English language is crazy that way.

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

  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!

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

  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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