By Study and Also By Faith

An LDS (Mormon) blog representing a search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Precision in Language

So what helps you use language precisely, so that your meaning is clear and your discussions don't disintegrate into definitions and semantics?

I try to improve my precision in word choice, but feel that I am getting nowhere fast. Does it help to enlarge one's vocabulary? Or would it be better to spend time studying logic? How about memorizing a thesaurus?

Seriously, I have always felt that reading a lot has given me a large vocabulary and therefore, a greater ability to use the precise word needed in a given context. However, I feel that isn't enough. For one thing, I use my pet words too often. For another, while I know generally what words mean and how they are used, the subtleties often escape me because I am picking up my knowledge from general reading rather than studying the words.

Many of you in the Bloggernacle and the blogosphere are gifted in the use of language. So help me out here, will you? Or am I doomed because I was off reading a book when our Heavenly Father passed out the gifts in language usage and word choice?

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Blogger W. Lyle Stamps said...

Good Diction is next to Godliness; and if you follow medieval/mythic literature; 'true names' have enourmous precision in language can be power.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Mabel Maybe said...

Write poetry.

Read funny books on usage. When you get good at affect/effect and between/among, the rest follows.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous J. Stapley said...

Write for submission. It is always a lovely thing to have your heart ripped out of you by an editor...but it is worth it.

My posts are written in minutes and rarely get proofread - so no judging the value of my comment by my blog!

4:11 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

Great comments, y'all! I'll incorporate these ideas--well, maybe I'll wait a bit on getting my heart ripped out! But it is a dream to be published some day.


6:05 PM  
Anonymous Barb said...

It is the middle of the night and I am sick. I could possibly use more inflated words to express my illness, but you get the point. I do not think that I have been sick for over a year. I watched a documentary where an author who was quite humorous was teaching other writers. She said that everybody hates their voice. She said though that writers have stories in them that have to get out. I love it when I seem to find the right word in my lexicon to convey my meaning. Other times I struggle. As far as expanding my vocabulary, I really have not had much sucess with those word a day exercises. They always have such obscure words that I do not feel would serve a purpose oftentimes other than to try to look smart. I do think actually vocabulary books are useful as I still recall learning certain words in high school for Composition class. I am funny that way that I can often recall when and word became a known word to me. My dad actually has a gift for vocabulary. It is a rather uncanny gift. It is like he has the dictionary memorized almost. We ask him if he spent a lot of time reading the dictionary and he is always rather evasive. I do think the study of other languages especially Latin can enlarge one's vocabulary. I agree that reading really is one of the best ways to expand one's word usage as you are exposed to the word in a real and salient context.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Barb said...

Here is a poem I wrote. I hope that I recall it correctly as I am going by memory.

Words about words

I so love musing about and using words./ With words I can speak of cabbages, kittens, and cottage cheese curds./ The words of which I play each day are of themselves neither good nor bad nor know they the meaning of happy or sad./ It is our minds that give meaning to the words that we employ./ Let us use them to bless and not to annoy./ Whether waxing philosophical or speaking in jest/ Choose from the pool of only the best./ Our quest is to find just the right word for just the right place./ Our reward is mirrored back in the recipient's face./ There are many whose abilities and vocabularies are much greater than mine./ I am often enlightened by others ordering words on a line./ At the present most words we use are free./ Let us use them judaciously and with unbridled glee!!!! :)

10:59 PM  
Blogger Peggy Snow Cahill said...

"Or am I doomed because I was off reading a book when our Heavenly Father passed out the gifts in language usage and word choice?"

Mary, reading a book is one of the best ways to develop language skills. And by the way, your language skills are great. Perhaps you don't realize it. I personally believe that Heavenly Father gave you enormous gifts in language usage. You do seem to bit hesitant or shy about using those skills sometimes, but you don't need to be, truly.

The best writing comes from the heart, and often is inspired by the Holy Ghost. And I personally have come to love simple speech.

I used to be quite the intellectual snob (before I joined the Church), and was always top of my class, in English and everything else. I bought into all the intellectual stuff, but have discarded most of it as merely pride, the puffed-uppery of the world. Yes, I make up my own words now! Virginia Woolf said:

"Before a woman can write exactly as she wishes to write, she has many difficulties to face. To begin with, there is the technical difficulty - so simple, apparently, in reality, so baffling - that the very form of the sentence does not fit her. It is a sentence made by men."

She went on to say that we must learn to use language as we speak, and not try to mold our language to the confines of accepted language, but to find our own style. For me, this means I use lots of parentheses, ellipses, and dashes, to allow for my train of thought which is sometimes other than linear. Do I write that way in essays for school? Not as much.

In short, don't worry about it! You are a great writer; I hang on your every word. Just accept that the Lord gave you or will give you all the gifts He wants you to have, if you just ask.

I think you have many exceptional gifts, including a very warm and compassionate spirit, which is the most important part of writing. I've heard that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care--and it is soooo obvious that you DO care. I remember at Nauvoo how your words were always such soothing balm to all the aching hearts.

By the way, I very much believe in the power of words. Christ refers to Himself as "the Word" and I think that is an indicator of how important words are.

This comment has already run too long, I apologize, but one last bit of advice that I received from a great counselor in school....

She said "You have to learn to trust yourself. Some days I go in and I am bloody brilliant, and some days I really screw up. But you just have to have the courage to accept that you will, and to keep going, and trust yourself."
This was in counseling, but writing is pretty much the same way. I try not to be afraid to bare my soul, and I unabashedly wear my heart on my sleeve...and I mess up A LOT! But I have to forgive myself and ask it of others, and go on. We mustn't let fear stand in the way of being who the Lord sent us to be, and doing what He wants us to do.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Mary A said...

Peggy, thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! They really touched me and gave me some courage! Thanks for taking the time to share.

Barb, thank you too for sharing your thoughts and the poem. It means a lot to me that I have friends who will take the time to send me some ideas.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Lisa M. said...

I certainly don't have anything to add. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy what you write, and I appreciate the time you put into Conversations.

Thank you ~

5:32 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

It's good to have a big vocabulary, but I've learned throughout life, that if the reader/listener doesn't undersand the great new word you just learned and are dying to use, then the only thing that gets communicated is that you think you're smarter than him. And he won't listen to anything else you say, either.

Having a big vocabulary allows you to adapt to more situations. Just don't use the wrong word in the wrong situation, or you won't be communicating the right thing.


10:51 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

Thanks, Lisa! Mark, that's a good point. After all, communicating with one's audience is what it's all about.

2:06 AM  
Blogger Pink Floyd said...

After all, communicating with one's audience is what it's all about.


7:29 AM  
Blogger Mary A said...


8:25 AM  
Blogger Hedgee said...

"In that premortal council, wherein Jesus meekly volunteered to aid the Father's plan, He said, "Here am I, send me" (Abraham 3:27). It was one of those special moments when a few words are preferred to many. Never has one individual offered, in so few words, to do so much for so many as did Jesus when He meekly proffered Himself as ransom for us, billions and billions of us!

In contrast, we see in ourselves, brothers and sisters, the unnecessary multiplication of words--not only a lack of clarity, but vanity. Our verbosity is often a cover for insincerity or uncertainty. Meekness, the subtraction of self, reduces the multiplication of words."

From Neal A Maxwell, Meekly Drenched in Destiny.

7:59 AM  

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