Save the WORDS!

This is sadictionaryd. Every day and all around us perfectly healthy words are falling ill.  Words that were once strong and big shouldered, words that were athletic and could carry enormous weight are being slowly eaten up by a quiet but deadly disease.

Let’s meet one of these brave victims. He goes by…

DISCRIMINATE

This once proud word could claim such definitions as

  • to distinguish by discerning or exposing differences
  • to make a distinction between one object and another
  • to use good judgment
  • (and it’s primary definition from Webster’s Seventh Collegiate) to mark or perceive the distinguishing or peculiar features of

It even enjoyed the company of synonyms like DISTINGUISH, DISCERN, EVALUATE, and DIFFERENTIATE.

But the word we once knew is unrecognizable today. Its definition has been reduced to one, narrow application that goes like this: to unfairly treat a person or group of people differently from other people or groups.

That’s it.

That’s all the meaning it can carry now.

It suffers from what linguists are calling Single Situational Usage Disorder, or SSUD. And the really sad thing about SSUD is that it’s avoidable.

Here are a few preventatives:

1. In the case of discriminate, adverbs might have prevented SSUD; simple, household words like superficially, unfairly, unwisely, or prematurely, when correctly used as modifiers, would have helped it retain its wide range of meaning.

2. Meaningful context might have had the same effect: “The employer was fined for making gender-based distinctions in employee pay.” Here the word discriminate was not even necessary. The context said it all.

3. Finally, a new word could have been coined for the situation; in fact, I’ll propose one now:  malabrigate;  from the latin malus, meaning bad; arbitratus, meaning will or decision; and genus, meaning race or people group; noun form - malabrigation. You make a bad decision based on ethnicity, you’ve just malabrigated. If someone of another race doesn’t like the way you look at them, they can point and say, malabrigation! The situation would be served accurately with a precise word, and discriminate could go on and live a full and healthy life.

I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if we could say to our kids when they eat paste or buy a Bieber downloadDon’t you ever DISCRIMINATE!?” without them thinking we’ve called them a bad name?

If you care at all about words, you’ll do your part and use the whole range of definitions.

“Your discrimination in blog material is superb!”

6 places where FAT likes to hide: OR the hardest thing about writing

Extra words don’t make better writers any more than extra fat makes better people. But as my students and clients can attest, the hardest thing about writing is the cutting.

6 places in your writing where the fat might be hiding:

1. Deadwood:  In view of the fact that the class is filled, we sincerely regret to inform you that we simply cannot admit you to Microbiology 202. A phrase like “in view of the fact” instead of “because” is deadwood. It’s grammatically correct, but it’s dead–it adds no meaning. And adverbs are often deadwood (I almost just modified often with very and would have illustrated my point); Sincerely and simply, in this context anyway, simply have to go.

2. Redundancy: Repeated words and phrases in the same passage are often opportunities for combining sentences.

BEFORE: Piggy’s “specs” act as a symbol for logical, rational thought. Logical, rational thought was one thing the boys lacked, but as much as they needed it, they still treated Piggy’s specs carelessly.

AFTER: Though they lacked logical, rational thought, the boys treated its symbol, Piggy’s “specs”, carelessly.  

3. Superfluity in diction. Don’t use a big word when a small one does the same job. Don’t say “superfluity in diction” when “unnecessary words” will work.

4. Assumed ignorance in your audience. This is one ditch along the know-your-audience road. The other would be leaving them in the dark with too few words.

Re-telling the plot in a literary analysis piece or explaning common knowledge as though it weren’t common are two examples. In business copy, telling prospective clients or customers what their business or industry’s value propositions are might be unecessary. It might be patronizing too. Tell them what YOUR value propositions are, and if they match those of your target, great.  Just know your audience.

5. Stock language. Certain writing formats have their own pitfalls. The literary analysis essay, for example, presents this one:  “Another example of how Ralph follows Jack into savagery is when…” In this case, the entire essay is on Ralph following Jack into savagery (do you know the book?), so there’s no reason to repeat the thesis at every new example.

6. The passive voice, which I discuss here. It’s a post on writing website copy, but you’ll get the idea.

Bottom line: Be ruthless with your words.

On-line Writing Classes

This winter (first week of Feb.), I’ll be offering three writing classes: 

ACT Prep – We’ll focus on grammar, usage, mechanics, and persuasive writing. The “ACT” part refers to the English, writing, and reading portions of the ACT test. No math or science, I’m afraid. You’ll need another teacher for those. Here’s a course description.

 

High School Writing 1 – This is an introductory essay course. We’ll do 8 essays in each of the 4 modes of discourse: narration, description, persuasion, and exposition. Here’s a course description.
 

High School Writing 2 — This is a new course that builds on the essay-writing skills from HSW1. We’ll still hit each of the 4 modes of discourse, but with more of a focus on literary analysis (we’ll read a novel!) and research (problem/solution essay). No course description yet; I’m still working on it.

 

All classes will begin Monday, February 3, and run through May 5. Plenty of room now, but I will try to keep it to ten students total, so you may want to let me know if you’re interested sooner rather than later.

 

Have a wonderful Christmas season!

 

My contact info:
Brad Beals
bradbeals@gmail.com
517.242.7884

To be a better writer, become a better reader

To get better at writing, a writer needs to read, and read a lot.

slow sign 2

But not just anything.

And not just in any way.

There’s a way to read that lets the act itself become formative work for the writer rather than a passive somnolence or thoughtless automation.

Reading can be good work and add value to your writing if you read like this:

1. Read at a conversational pace. That page-turner that everyone’s burning through won’t help you. You may as well be watching a movie for all the benefit it has on your brain’s language center. When you read fast, your brain tends to glean meaning at the surface. Page turners tend to be surfacy and encourage a break-neck pace, and that’s fine in so far as you crave it. But reading text at the same pace you would read it aloud to someone else does something more. It allows you to hear sentence structure, variety, and sequence. It allows you to appreciate — in a writing-as-craft kind of way — what the author is doing at the sentence level.

2. Read good stuff at a conversational pace. Immerse yourself in the kind of writing you want to emulate. Stretch. And by stretch I also mean don’t break. Choose those writers that are on your frontier but not over the horizon. The text should be reachable, so it’s important to know your own abilities.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t read books that are over your head. Making your brain hurt by thinking is good for you. But when reading to specifically improve writing, keep things in front of you, in arms’ reach. Watching a world-class athlete perform is great fun. Trying to keep up with him in the gym can be fatal.

3. Read good stuff that echoes your own sensibilities at a conversational pace. You know this intuitively when you “click” with a particular writer. Your own skills and abilities get warmed up when they’re being demonstrated in what you’re reading. When rhythm between narration and dialogue, for example, fits your own senses, you can better imitate that skill and better use that writing muscle. And here’s a bonus — your other writing muscles will be in better posture for working out. Choosing books that fit well is like strengthening your core.

4. Don’t limit yourself to points 1-3. I read some books at a frenetic pace. And I have to read some books so slowly I get a headache. There should be a regular place in our reading lives for both kinds. But when I find myself saying If only I could write like this, when I’ve got a good book by an author whose craft makes sense to me, I make sure to read at a pace that lets me see how to write like this. For writers, this kind of reading should occupy most of our nose-in-book time.

So slow it down, Writer. Work those muscles.

GUEST POST: The “Personal Computer” redefined

windowsby Charlie Beals

In today’s world of technology we can’t help but hear the word PC, and we hear it often. appleMost people don’t even think about it; to them, it just means a computer running the Windows operating system, as opposed to OSx (Mac). However, in the 1970s, this was most certainly not the case.

The first computers were large. It took teams of several people to run them, and they couldn’t even handle the smallest of today’s programs. If you wanted to use one, you would have to pay a fee, give your information to an operator, and stand by while he punched in your code and waited for the computer to respond. Not only was this impractical, but it was expensive.

This all change in ’72, when two guys in a garage built the first consumer-friendly computer and after some positive feedback began to produce it in large scale. So the first personal computer, or PC, was built. Not only was it not a Windows machine, it was actually made by the very rivals of what most people today think of as the PC. They named it the Apple.applei

I propose a new definition for “personal computer”: A personal computer is…

(a) controlled by one person at a time
(b) controlled directly by the user
(c) capable of running by itself with no other computers required.

So what does this mean? Well, first off, point (a) says that the computer is controlled by one person at a time. This tells us that network computers, such as those with multiple keyboards and other inputs that allow them to interact with several people at once, are not personal computers. On the other hand, a computer with one keyboard, one mouse, one monitor, designed to be controlled by one person at a time, fits the first criteria of a PC. So far, both Windows computers and Macs alike seem to be PCs.

The next criteria is that it must be directly controlled by the user. You may be thinking “how else do you control a computer?” Well, it turns out that there are thousands of computers that you actually have some control over. These are called servers. A server is usually housed in a large building with several hundred others like it. These are used to host files, usually in the form of web pages. So every time you go to facebook.com, your computer is going to one of these servers and telling it to send you a page. Therefore, you are not controlling the server directly, but rather through your own computer. As it turns out, servers are also controlled by many people at once, so they don’t meet any of the criteria so far.

The last part of the definition says that a PC must be capable of running by itself, with no other computers required. Now, while most computers fall into this category, there is one widely used type of computer that doesn’t fit. This is called the workstation. A workstation is a computer used at a large business or corporation. A workstation looks and works like a regular desktop but with one main difference: it uses a server to get most of its info. So while it is controlled by one person at a time, and is controlled directly by the user, it cannot run by itself, so it is not a PC.

This new definition of PC helps us categorize computers better. By separating computers that are used by one person, controlled directly, and self-reliant, from those that are not, we can see what a real personal computer is. So the final question — is a Mac a PC? A Mac fits all of the above criteria, so the answer is yes, both Windows and OSx machines fall under the title “PC.”

Sorry, Windows, but your computers are going to need a new name.

GUEST POST: A review — To Kill a Mockingbird

mock birdby John Schaefer

I watched the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird after reading the book by Harper Lee. Many people will throw that movie up with some of the greatest ever. It had its ups and it had some downs. The movie was good, but saying it is one of the greatest is a bit of a stretch.

The plot is very good. It takes place in the early 1900’s, around the Great Depression. The main characters are a dad, Atticus, and his two children, Jem, a boy, and Scout, a girl. There is also an eccentric neighbor boy named Dill that hangs out with Jem and Scout. The dad is a very respected lawyer and his two children are a little mischievous, curious and sneaky.

In the movie, the plot revolves around the father who is defending a black man in court who was accused of raping a white man’s daughter. During that time his children are having fun fooling around a house that a man has not come out of for a long time. These two situations would later come together for an interesting ending. The plot really addressed the issues of racism back during that time and how not to judge people just because they’re different.

The actors did very well. Atticus acts like a wise, older man who knows how to handle his kids. Scout is a very tomboyish girl who wants to be part of everything that Jem and Dill are doing. Jem is also well portrayed as a boy who is growing up and learning the awful truth about the world and racism during that time period. Dill was perfect as a kid full of energy and adventure. I didn’t find any flaws when it came to the actors. They chose excellent people to fill in the roles of very unique characters.

I don’t know much about cinematography or direction, but I did find the way they started the movie very interesting. The movie started with shots of a number of things in a box that was given to Scout and Jem by another character in the film. This part of the film doesn’t make sense unless you had already read the book, so I think it was an interesting way to start the movie.mock bird 2

Watching the movie also turned out to be an interesting experience because I had just finished reading the book. The plot in the movie was good because of the fact that the book was very good. The only issue I had with the plot was that if you were a person who had read the book and then watched the movie you might have felt that the plot was rushed.

In fairness though, if the movie were to contain all the details that were in the book, it would have been too long. However, if you were to watch the movie before you read the book, you probably wouldn’t have noticed the rushed plot. The characters in the movie were also just how I had imagined them in the book. I thought the movie was a very good film adaptation of the book.

In conclusion, To Kill a Mockingbird is a good movie. There have been a lot of people that would throw this movie up there with some of the best movies ever. Yes, this movie won a number of awards when it came out, but putting it up there with some of the greatest movies is, I believe, a bit of a stretch. However, I think everybody should get an opportunity to watch this good, black and white, classic movie.

GUEST POST: A review of William Raine’s novel Justice Deferred

raineby JOEL RUBINGH

The book Justice Deferred by William MacLeod Raine is what a western style book should be.  Written in 1941, the book is set when horses started losing their popularity and usefulness to cars.  But a little romance, a shootout, and a couple of ambushes make this book show the life in the old west.  Feuding ranchers, escaped cattle, and long horseback rides on the prairie are all included.  It even starts off with a car chase!

Right away, Jack Blake saves a pretty girl.  She introduces herself as Mary Lane.  Then Jack moves on to visit the corral where his dad had his last shootout.  Now that his mother is dead, Jack is free to bring justice to his father’s killers.  Like anybody would do, Jack looks through a phone book, associating himself with the names of people in town; some names he recognizes, some he doesn’t.  As he moves around town, people start recognizing him because of his father’s figure in him.  Some people don’t want Jack back.  Some attempt to murder him, and he goes after them.  He doesn’t get them, but they know they have to leave town and in order to get money to live on they try to rob the town bank.  However, they don’t plan on Jack being in the bank during the robbery.

William Raine grew up on a ranch near the Texas-Arkansas border, so I think he would know first-hand what a book like this should say.  He does a good job of keeping the plot realistic.  At the same time, he does a good job of keeping the answer to the conflict hidden until the very end of the book.  Based on this book, it would seem that he knows how to make one character stand out as the hero, but yet not have him do some astronomical things which would seem impossible.  He also keeps enough variety in the characters that the book doesn’t get boring.  Each writer has his own style, some good and some bad.  William Raine’s book Justice Deferred should be categorized as a good style.

Justice Deferred is a great western-style book, great for anybody interested in the wild west.  I think it really brings out the true feeling of the time when greed ran rampant in little western towns.  The romance involved adds a little bit of a feminine twist, while the ambushes help to make this book appealing to boys.  If you’re not interested in westerns, at least pick up this book to read about a little of the history of the western United States, written first-hand by William MacLeod Raine.