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"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." --Mark Twain in a letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888
What makes one written piece, whether prose, poetry or advertising copy, make enough impact to induce physiological responses, when another may be merely interesting, at best? In many if not all cases, I believe it is the author's choice of precisely the right words to best convey the message. A reader's perception of subtle nuances in a word's meaning often render a completely different message than what the author intended. This makes it imperative that as writers, we take great care choosing the words we use.
As practitioners of the wordsmith's craft, having a large vocabulary is the equivalent of the skilled tradesman's toolbox. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the English language provides a bazillion words to choose from. In truth, nobody really knows how many. What defines a word is slippery slope. Is it different when a noun than when a verb, foreign words which have been assimilated, jargon, slang, contractions, acronyms, portmanteaus, where is the line drawn? Most scholars agree that there is no "line," rather a continually shifting gray area. Estimates vary from a half million to over two million with perhaps 200,000 commonly used. What a massive store of tools for writers.
To our benefit, the list of publications to assist us in our search for THE right word is extensive. If you need to flesh out your New Year wish list, books by Martin Manser, Willard Funk, Richard Lederer, John Bremer or Bill Bryson are worth looking into. There exist a plethora of Internet sites dealing with words. Betterthanenglish.com introduces words in other languages when English falls short of the mark.
Enjoy the width and breadth of our wonderful, magical, ever-growing English language and keep writing.
"It is hard indeed to notice anything for which the languages available to us have no description." --Alan W. Watts
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