I've suggested a few times that I will likely never be a truly literary writer for one main reason: I can never bring myself to pick the words I use more for their sound or their rhythm or their structure than for their meaning. I'm a meanings guy and a precision guy. I always have been, and I always be.
When I was a kid, my parents told me not to run though the puddle. I jumped in it. And I was bewildered when they were annoyed with me. I wasn't smarting off; I just didn't understand how the two were supposed to convey the same essence.
I hope that I've gotten a little better over time, but I know it's not a whole lot. It's taken my wife me most of our ten years to figure out how to talk about things in the kitchen. To me, a pot and a pan are different. A cup, mug, and a glass are all different. And I would never use them interchangeably, and I still sometimes get confused when people do so in the casual rush of the day.
The flip-side of that is that, unfortunately, my precise definitions aren't always predictable. That is to say, it's not quite the same taking everything literally in the way people usually mean. For instance, a wooden spoon can be plastic and silver tape can be green. In my mind, when I was forming definitions of the language, I didn't connect wood + spoon = wooden spoon. Instead, I connected large, flat spoon for mixing in bowls and stirring while cooking = wooden spoon. Likewise, we used to call duct tape, "silver tape." In my mind that was not tape that is silver; it was tape that is broad, tough, and extra sticky and good for a lot of utility projects.
When it comes to writing, though, the important thing for me is that there are no true synonyms. Every word has nuances that make it different from other words. Most people will readily admit to that -- but to me those nuances are nonnegotiable.
So have it!
And, it's okay to laugh at me. :)
First up: February Grace -- "Geek. Nerd. Brainiac. Poindexter."
A geek is obsessed with something that's pop-culture-y or hobby-ish, but either his obsession is over-the-top or the subject matter is out-of-the mainstream. A nerd is someone who is smart, but socially awkward and tends to be someone who is clumsy and presents themselves poorly. A braniac is someone who is as smart as a nerd, but need not be quite as clumsy -- but they're generally a smart Alec or a know-it-all. A poindexter is a lot like a geek, except they're as smart as a nerd and their obsession is typically something academic rather than pop-culture-y.
Next up: SC -- "Grieve and mourn. Quickly and speedily. Careless and sloppy. Code, develop, and engineer."
For me you can grieve any time you're sad, but you only mourn death or a loss that take's death's metaphorical role. To something quickly implies not only speed but some measure of alacrity. It also suggests that individual steps are brief and efficient. To something speedily feels broader to me, and does not imply any deftness or skill in execution, nor any efficiency in the particulars. Careless requires an attitude specifically of not caring. Sloppiness does not require that attitude. The results of careless and sloppy work can look similar, but their genesis is very different. As a 90% outsider on the word of software development, I doubt my definitions on the last three are correct, but to me coding is grinding through the lines; developing adds a layer of planning onto the coding; and engineering deals with the planning of the pieces and the cobbling together of discrete units of unit.
Back for a return visit: SC -- "elf, dwarf, sprite., fairy, gnome, brownie, goblin"
I'm usually on my own with these, but an elf is slender with pointy ears, a bit of green in the skin, and can be human-sized. A dwarf in the same context is short, fat, ugly, surly, and essentially a tough human with the build of a woodstove. Dwarves live in mountains and underground. A fairy is tiny and has wings and lives among plants. A gnome is smaller than a dwarf but much larger than a fairy. It, like a dwarf, varies from humans by little other than its size. Gnomes only live underground. Brownies are gnome-sized or slightly smaller, usually have wings, but not may, and live nearer to people and human structures than fairies do. Goblins are usually the size of dwarves or slightly larger. They're fat. They also don't look much like humans in the face. They're usually green, brown, or cobalt. They live underground but come out at night to raid.
Next at the plate: Samantha Sotto-Yambao -- "Agree. Concur. Yes. Okay."
The words yes and okay differ in formality (which is part of meaning in English, we just don't admit it). But, more than that yes implies an affirmation, while okay merely serves as an acknowledgment. I'll admit there's a lot of overlap between agree and concur. For me, though, concur is between two parties or two propositions; it also suggests that one party is showing deference or respect to the other other party. Agree can be between multiple parties and suggests more of an egalitarian resolution.
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Next up: ShannonLeigh1976 -- "Couch. Sofa. Davenport. Chesterfield."
Okay, so this is the first definite, clear winner here. I've never really gotten my head around Davenport or Chesterfield, and in my mind I don't have much of a distinction between couch and sofa apart from age, region, and maybe a little touch of formality. But, honestly, I have to concede on this one. Well done, Shannon!
Next to try: Michelle Davidson Argyle -- "Writer, author."
Part of me thinks I would be best off just declaring myself stumped so that I don't get in trouble with anyone, but instead I'll just beg everyone's indulgence and ask them to take no offense. Because I do view these words very differently. Importantly, I make no value different between the two, however. That established, writer is a broader term and includes columnists, journalists, novelists, playwrights, passionate letter writers, and dedicated diarists -- among others. It's simply someone for whom writing plays some significant role. In that sense, it's a more casual word, as well. An author is someone crafts complete prose pieces with an intention that they be presented to a readership.