Nature’s chief masterpiece

Of all those arts in which the wise excel,
Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.

The quote used to appear in a Time magazine ad long ago. Hardly anyone remembers the author, John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham (1648-1721), for his poetry, but maybe that is why I love the quote all the more. I am no word maven but am seduced by words. [Read more...]

The seven ages of language

Stephen King

Stephen King

Don’t make any conscious effort to improve your vocabulary, says Stephen King in his book, Stephen King: On Writing. Your vocabulary will grow as you read, he adds. And then he says:

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because maybe you’re a little ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use “emolument” when you mean “tip”…

Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colourful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word – of course you will, there’s always another word – but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.

Write simply, let the words flow, don’t be stiff and laboured. That’s what King is saying. And he is right. You don’t want to pause and look up a word or read a sentence twice to get its meaning. [Read more...]

GIF and Gatsby’s ‘orgastic future’

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2)

Huh! That’s not how writers and creators feel. Ask Steve Wilhite, the man who created the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF). [Read more...]

Magazine changes and the Oxford English Dictionary

The pen is mightier than the sword. Look at what happened to the word, “magazine”.

There was a time when it meant an arsenal, an armoury, a storehouse for arms and ammunition. Maybe that is how the cartridge-holder for rifles and machine-guns came to be called a “magazine”.

[Read more...]