Aug 23, 2016

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

by Terri Wagner

My title is courtesy of the classic film Princess Bride a favorite of mine. Lately, I have been doing a crossword puzzle at lunch just to get away from all the drama of first week back to school. And often I keep getting these clues that to me have nothing to do with what I think most people think the word means. It makes me go uhhhhh?! A novice writer is always guilty of using words in a creative fashion that only confuses readers. I took a journalism course in college and I well remember our professor's words...use the word that describes the action, only that word. For example, he would say "he raced through the parking lot," is incorrect. Unless of course the character was actually in a race. Otherwise you need to find the word that truly describes what happened. For example did he run? did he saunter? Did he hop? Did he skip? That tiny piece of insight about using the right word has stuck with me all these years later. When I read he tore through the store, I always laugh and think really and just how did he do that. Seriously using the right word the right way beats using words that sound great but have little basis in reality. Well ok I will concede that a ogre may literally tear through a forest to get to the elf. Fantasy has it's own set of rules.

After this experience in crosswording, I think I would make all new writers have to do that on a daily basis. After all, a picture (of words) is better than a thousand words. In this particular crossword puzzle they like to use clues like aches for ill. Now aches and ill can describe someone who is experiencing an unhealthy situation but aches are very different than ill. I realize crosswords puzzles are hard put to find words that work together, but it's a great experience in learning to be a good wordsmith. And there are true gems in Princess Bride, check out how they used words that are truly amazing in a very inconceivable way (FTR from PB).


  1. Very well done! I agree; English is a screwy language, and using words incorrectly makes things worse. I actually keep a running list of words-used-wrong. Balled her eyes out, udder despair, and a woman on maturity leave are some of my favorites. I had a funny mental image of a young mother "streaking after her son at the playground," which I guess makes me Old, since I well remember when streaking was something polite people simply did not do.

  2. AWesome post Terri! You always give me something to think about.


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