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Posts tagged "language"
There’s another (paywalled) John McPhee piece in this week’s New Yorker on his writing process. After he reads his second draft aloud and makes some adjustments, he starts drawing boxes around words that he thinks can be improved:
You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity. While the word inside the box may be perfectly O.K., there is likely to be an even better word… If none occurs, don’t linger; keep reading and drawing boxes, and later revisit them one by one.
Then, you go not to a thesaurus, but a dictionary:
With dictionaries, I spend a great deal more time looking up words I know than words I have never heard of—at least ninety-nine to one. The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you out than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus.
His reasoning: the dictionary not only gives you a gives you a list synonyms, it also gives you a deeper understanding of the meaning of the word, and sometimes the definition can lead you to a better way of phrasing altogether.
In the search for words, thesauruses are useful things, but they don’t talk about the words they list. They are also dangerous. They can lead you to choose a polysyllabic and fuzzy word when a simple and clear one is better. The value of a thesaurus is not to make a writer seem to have a vast vocabulary of recondite words.
Filed under: writing
(via Sara Bader)