Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such Nashville Office
Weather: Hot and rainy
The subliminal thinking behind my posts about non-English words being more in use is the oil spill in the Gulf. On a personal level, the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores are a favorite vacation spot, and here in Nashville, we enjoy lots of fresh Gulf seafood on our menus. I had hardly thought about the number of oil rigs sitting in that body of water–until about two months ago, that is. Aside from the consuming questions of responsibility and recovery time and the dreadful impact on wildlife, I notice how language has been misused or misunderstood in the process of hand-wringing and backtracking.
Last week’s gaffe from BP’s chair Carl-Henric Svanberg about helping the “small people” in the Gulf area is an example of someone from a different culture speaking in a language other than his native one and not quite getting it right. Was this a bit of European aristocratic viewpoint or was it a lack of understanding of syntax or was it insufficient vocabulary on Mr. Svanberg’s part? He’s a Swede, which is interesting in itself since BP is a British company–or at least it was.
After several days of encouraging all of us who write to think about enlarging our vocabularies with non-English words, I have to throw up two signs of caution: Use a reliable dictionary frequently and know your audience! That’s not to say we shouldn’t challenge our readers or make our characters more interesting with specifics about their cultural background and language. I’m simply preaching precision mixed with variety. So, for example, if you’re writing nonfiction about the role of B-29 planes, or you’re creating a murder mystery set in Texas, work to get the language right. Most experienced writers have a particular group in mind when they write, and some read their work aloud as they are crafting it.
Who are you talking to? How can you make your conversation with your readers richer and fuller through the words you use?