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Semantics of Words: Using the Right Word

When you write, how many of you choose the right words to use? The stats are appallingly low. Semantics is a science and branch of linguistics that deals with the actual (literal) meaning of an expression or the implied (figurative/contextual) meaning.

For instance, when they say a particular thing, garish writers tend to be more garish, incorporating such forms of usage widely not applicable to the terms used. Here is an example…

“When the sunrays pierced my innards, I discovered it extremely difficult to slip my feet forward. When the scorching wind steam-bathed me, I felt being pushed back hard. And when the cackling noise terrified me, I sensed an acceleration on my feet.”

When I wrote this little paragraph, I intended to give you the worst example of word usages possible. However, after finishing it now, I see it can have a totally different outlook.

Look at the first sentence. The italicized words are used in an absurd way. Sunrays cannot pierce your innards, and it is unlikely that you will ever slip your feet forward. Here, let’s imagine the description is about a hungry and thirsty character, alone in a desert. But the sunrays cannot pierce anybody’s innards even figuratively.

The second sentence is, on the contrary, a nice way to accomplish figurative thought process. Wind is scorching, particularly in mid-day in a desert. When you read that sentence, you feel the sultriness yourself. And steam-bath is a really good figurative construction. The third sentence is neither good nor bad.

So the point is, the barrier separating correct figurative usage and absolutely wrong usage is extremely thin. When you refer the meaning of a word, keep an eye open for the figurative sense it can make. When trying to be prolix and rich in metaphor, you may victimize yourself to the exaggeration of situation. It can backfire and be deemed as a poor style of writing. So, being creative or outright garish is a matter of extreme care and sensual thought.

How to?

One way to achieve good visual sense is feeling whatever you read with all your senses. See, hear, taste, touch, and smell the content you read. For this, such visible, tasty, fragrant, etc., should be the content. And this requirement points you to the best of best writers out there. Did you read through my posts on greatest writers? Read some of them. When you read their writings, this sensual, visual appeal automatically comes, and it is the only way you can better your writing.

Exaggeration makes matters worse. The first sentence in the example above is pure exaggeration and looks readily absurd to one’s eyes. A few more examples may be in order here.

“She swash-buckled with the dog, when she felt alone.”

“The student massacred his veins when he failed in the examination.”

“A leviathan roadblock wearily stood up and shattered all our hopes to reach the hospital in time.”

“The typewriter jerked to a standstill as a result of the overexertion of her smacking skills.”

I really enjoyed coining such funny sentences for you. Please avoid such exaggeration and terrible use of words in your sentences. It is, rightly, a massacre of words you found here. Now, here are some good usage examples for you.

“The divorce exhausted him mentally and physically.”

“Children found themselves stranded in the middle of the city, with nowhere to call out for help.”

“The train whistled shrilly as it thumped swiftly forward.”

You may place your own comments with any examples you wish to give other readers.

Meanings of Words

There are many words used in wrong (and largely established though dictionaries do not yet follow) meanings in English today. One such example is several/many.

Several means a “small number,” while many means “a very large number.” But these words are used interchangeably. Sparingly should several be used when you refer to the population of a country. Also, another meaning of several is ‘various,’ as in:

“The children went their several ways.”

Also, there is the meaning ‘separate’ in legal sense for this word, though it is highly unlikely and unusual that you will ever encounter this usage.

More of such examples of largely wrongly used words will be added in the coming posts. Keep checking back.

Here are some posts that may interest you…

The Main Reason Why Your Writing Fails

Some English Errors

Great Writers: Charles Dickens

Publishing vs. Vanity and Self

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


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