I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why I Love This Crazy Language

Captain Caveman
Captain Caaaave Maaaan!
It occurred to me this week that I’ve written many times lately about grammar misuse in a very negative light, basically bashing the grammar-challenged over the head with a blunt blogject. It further occurs to me that this maaaaaaaay not be the best way to lure the on-the-fencers away from the dark side that is grammarcide.

So I’ve decided to take another approach and make today’s post about why I love this kooky language of ours so much. Hopefully by the end of this piece my lovely readers will understand that my bashing of bad grammar isn’t purely out of snobbery; it’s out of an earnest desire to preserve the richness and the meaningful structure of the language. If anything, I’m a mama bear protecting her favorite cubs.

I’ll start with an example from one of my favorite authors. I love, love, love, love LOVE Isaac Asimov (Did I mention that I love him?), not for his prose, but for his story-telling, suspense-building, and his sharp analytic mind. Reading his robot novels is a master class in science fiction and analytics all in one. Last week I was reading The Robots of Dawn and came across a passage where Elijah Baley, our hero, was trying to explain the difference between the words ‘homicide’ and ‘murder’ to a robot. By definition these two words are the same and so the robot makes no distinction, but Baley has to try to explain why a human would scream ‘Murder!’ rather than ‘Homicide!’ when witnessing the act.

And why is that?

Those two synonymous words, like so many so many in our language, have evolved their own emotional value through usage, through cultural development, and through association. At some early point people may not have made any distinction between the two, but now we reserve the word homicide for describing the legal nature of the act, and murder for the emotionally charged, teeth-clenching, fear-inspiring nature of the act.

Now think of some other similar words from a writer’s POV. This is where my love of our fantastically diverse and complex language comes into play; when it comes to the thesaurus I’m like a kid at the world’s most gigantic and nerdy vending machine. For fun, I’m including a short list of other synonyms without a definable distinction. Take a look at these and think about the way they make you feel; if you use one instead of the other in a sentence, does it change the image you want to convey?

Worried, Apprehensive, Fraught
Weak, Frail, Spineless
Hungry, Famished, Ravenous
Fat, Obese, Beefy
Smile, Grin, Leer
Arrive, Appear, Pop-in
Surprise, Overwhelm, Dumbfound
Real, Solid, Absolute

Some of these are more subtle than others, but they are still the key device in the writer’s tool box and the most important part of the picture we want the reader to paint for themselves. What are your favorite synonyms to add to this list?


  1. Sounds like you got an A in class Ashley. Congratulations. I think that last little black chalkboard quip is very cute!
    My addition would: Zaftig, plump and curvaceous.

  2. I think you just got the Word of the Day Award! 'Zaftig'... now that's one I rarely see and never hear. But I like it!

  3. LOL. I love the "Fabulus" sign. That's too funny.

  4. I'm all about pulling out the thesaurus when needed! I don't think it's snobbery at all for you to point out grammatical errors, either. =)

    There's this one lady at my work who has to point out to me once in a while that I used the wrong word and then I'll go, "Yeah, but you know what I'm saying." lol

    Drives her bananas.

    1. Ha! See, I'm bad about saying the wrong thing. I' a HORRIBLE impromptu speaker. That's why I wish all communication could be restricted to written forms :-)

  5. I think I need to buy a book on all verbs. I'm terrible with verb the most! Lately I've been really proud that I thought of the word bedfellows and I used it correctly! Hehe.

    1. If I could have just one book it would be one on how to avoid using "suddenly!" I'll proofread sometimes and count it waaaaay too times.

  6. I also love grammar...it's one of the only things that really challenges me anymore.

    Honestly though, it's only as I'm teaching my daughter how to read and sound out words that it really hits me how complicated our language is. I mean how do I explain to her that 'who' starts with a 'w'? Or that 'meat' and 'meet' are two different words even though they sound exactly alike? It's challenging, that's for sure.

    1. Oh yes, like 'hey' and 'hay' or choose/chose vs. loose/lose. It's the very devil to comprehend, but once you get it you're IN :-)


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