They’re one of the most important ways to communicate. Obvious – but we take them for granted at our peril – and I’m not just talking about authors. I’ve been thinking about words a lot recently. Finding the correct ones to advise, console, instruct, write… Personally, I need to learn to cut out unnecessary words. Less is more; make each and every word count and earn its living. When editing, think about the phrases on the river stones that I use to remind myself on how to shape, prune, improve my work…
At a Sunday lunch in a local restaurant last week (Sunday lunches are definitely not “less”), we were sitting opposite a pretty, intelligent young Italian called Elena who was good at semantics.
For some reason I had been telling my friends how much my lovely husband adored his muck heap (polite expression); how his eyes lit up when the local farmer brought a trailer load of the sheep manure down our track for my husband’s “orto”. They laughed. Elena then asked me, “Did you know that the Italian expression “lieto” (meaning delighted to meet you), stems from the same Latin root, “laetus”, meaning manure?”
We thought she was joking but it turns out she’s spot on and my husband is at one with the Romans in their appreciation of sheep and cow shit.
So, I started to ponder about other words and their derivations and then, on Twitter, I posted a photo of what I thought was an orchid. (I follow a friend I’ve never met who is an expert). That is not an orchid, he retweeted. It’s broom rape.
I thought it an ugly name for an attractive plant. To cut the semantics short, the rape part of the name does not signify something violent and ugly. My expert informed me it could also be called a broom turnip. Click went my brain. Rape in Italian means turnip.
As authors, words are out tools. We mustn’t take them for granted.