Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘language’

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Banned word—or best word?

Did you know that periodically, the French comb through their language and pick out interloping words? The Academie Francaise, charged with publishing an official (if non-binding) dictionary of French, intermittently posts lists of banned English words that have wormed their way into the French language. In previous years, the Academie has suggested banning “le email,” “le blog,” and “le fast-food.” But this kind of linguistic purification isn’t just for the French. Lake Superior State University has come up with a list of banished words for 2012. Topping the list? “Amazing,” “baby bump,” and “shared sacrifice.” Other much-used words made it […]

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Is your prose fit or flabby? (And–does it matter?)

Is your writing lean and trim? Or does it need to shed some flab? Recently, user Leigh posted on FWR’s Facebook wall about an interesting writing-analysis tool, WritersDiet. Intrigued, I clicked on over. WritersDiet is a free online tool that analyzes a sample of your text. Paste in any text you want, hit “Run the test,” and the site provides an overall “fitness” report and a bar graph showing your usage of verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and it/this/that/there. Here’s how it scored a few different samples: 1. The opening paragraphs of a front-page story from the New York Times: The […]

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Under the Influence… of Stanley Plumly

When I was an MFA student at the University of Maryland, Stanley Plumly said two things about my poetry that have stuck with me and shaped not only how I think about my writing process but also how I approach teaching creative writing. In one conference, he asked, Will you ever write a ten-syllable line? Stanley Plumly is fond of John Keats’s work, so maybe he did want me to write in ten-syllable lines, but the question was designed to force to me think about formal choices I was making. My initial, silent response was that I was experimenting with […]

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Under the Influence… of prepositions?!

Before submitting stories to workshop in graduate school, I spent hours combing my sentences for inefficiencies. I scrutinized verbs. I wrenched clauses from passive construction. I asked myself some hard questions about adjectives. My classmates often called my writing “clean,” which pleased me. I aspired toward concision. One term workshop was led by an intimidating man largely considered a genius among the graduate students. He introduced us to Chekhov and eviscerated stories with uncanny precision. When my turn came, I was nervous—with good reason. The week my story was up, he sent an email asking everyone to bring three pages […]

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More powerful than a locomotive…

Not a poet? Perhaps you are. David Brooks points out that we all use metaphors in our daily speech, all the time, without even knowing it: When talking about relationships, we often use health metaphors. A friend might be involved in a sick relationship. Another might have a healthy marriage. When talking about argument, we use war metaphors. When talking about time, we often use money metaphors. But when talking about money, we rely on liquid metaphors. We dip into savings, sponge off friends or skim funds off the top. Even the job title stockbroker derives from the French word […]

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Shakespeare was a neuroscientist?

Neurolinguist Philip Davis is studying the effects of Shakespeare on the brain. Big Think has more info: In all of his plays, sonnets and narrative poems, Shakespeare used 17,677 words. Of these, he invented approximately 1,700, or nearly 10 percent. Shakespeare did this by changing the part of speech of words, adding prefixes and suffixes, connecting words together, borrowing from a foreign language, or by simply inventing them, the way a rapper like Snoop Dogg has today. […] [Davis] is studying what he calls “functional shifts” that demonstrate how Shakespeare’s creative mistakes “shift mental pathways and open possibilities” for what […]