Just got off the phone with a friend in India, during which I used the word ‘erroneous’ and got crap for it. But, you know, in a good way.
I do that sometimes: use the first word that comes to mind (which really was erroneous) instead of the more common version (in this case, ‘wrong’). Some of that is the fault of my degree; sometimes I think the only thing it was good for was giving me a +4 to any Bullshit skill check.
But, getting crap over international airwaves aside, choosing the right word is important. You have to at least try to convey the precise shade of meaning you’re going for. And that can be tricky.
For example, earlier today I was working on another piece for this blog about creative people being mean to or dismissive of each other. It was very eloquently titled ‘Don’t Be An Asshole’. But then I started thinking (always an entertaining, if dangerous, activity with me). The following is a dramatic reenactment of that thought process:
I’ve just been looking at this piece we wrote…
It’s good, hey?
Maybe? What fresh new hell is this, brain?
No, no, it’s fine. The sentiment is good. But this word…
Yeah, that one. You think that’s the right one?
Full of shit and smells? Yeah, seems about right for the people we’re describing.
Fair enough, but assholes are also, you know, useful. And necessary. From a biological standpoint, anyway.
Huh. You may have a point. I don’t want these people thinking that their crappy belittling attitude is useful in any way. Or necessary.
Can I make a suggestion?
Sure, but can you get on with it? I’ve got more writing to do today, you know. I can’t waste all my time talking to you.
What was that?
Nothing. Maybe we should go with a different word. How about…mm…’tumour’?
Isn’t that the reaction we’re going for? Plus, they’re not always malignant, but they’re unnecessary, can be life-sucking and often require forcible removal.
Hm…tumour. Interesting. I like it.
I thought you would. But now it means the piece we wrote isn’t ready for posting on schedule.
Oh, that’s fine. We’ll just knock something together where I talk to myself.
You mean me.
Right. Let’s get on that.
So there you have it: tumours, not assholes. Because the right word is important.