The Power Of Certain Words

Ever hear someone use a word that sounded so out of character, their entire persona changed right before your eyes? For example, what if a priest were sitting beside you in a deli, and you overheard him say, “Jesus, look at these prices!” Maybe he is sincerely invoking God’s name in the hopes of seeing a miracle of new pricing right before his eyes – but – probably not.

As a writer, of course, I notice words a lot. Recently, I was reading CHILD OF GOD, by Cormac McCarthy. You don’t need me to tell you the man can write. If you like that style. And by that I mean, he’s been compared to Faulkner, Hemingway, and not sure who else, but, just to be compared to those two heavy weights – need I say more?

While reading CHILD OF GOD, I noticed McCarthy’s choice of words in a way I’ve never noticed before while reading any book. I think it might have been because they’re no longer in “circulation,” so they really stuck out.  They seemed old fashioned, obscure, seldom used by everyday writers, but for this story they were perfect. I really enjoyed how he would write a sentence describing a person’s actions, or the setting and how I didn’t need to look up any of them to “get” what he meant. Slagheap, wimpling, slaver, palimpsest, intaglio and cannalured, are a few (and only a few), just to give you an idea. It was the use of these unusual words that made him read like Faulkner, or Hemingway, as well as his sentence structure.

Much like the example of the priest above, there is another, really common word that can change your image of someone, the instant they use it. Precious. Think about it. Who would you expect to say, “Oh, now that’s just precious.” Would you expect it to be a guy? A man’s man, so to speak? It is, again, just in my own opinion, a word reserved more for women, you know, little old ladies. I don’t use it – never have. It’s like my brain automatically veers away and I honestly don’t think it’s a word that has EVER come to my mind to use in a sentence. Gah. This one should have gone in that WORDS I HATE post from way back when, but this post is more about how using words can change your perception of someone or something. And that one would certainly do it, if say, some guy, oh, I don’t know, like Tony Soprano? said, “That’s precious!”

The easy ones to see a change in perception are curse words. (Or cuss words, as we say here.)  I never, ever used to cuss. Then things happened, and a little “shit!” or “oh hell,” slipped out. Then, other things happened and the notorious “f” bomb was dropped. And now I’m writing a book with a lot of “f” bombs in it. And I can’t seem to stop thinking, or saying it. “Fuck, I spilled some milk.” Or, “Fuck, is that the mailman already?” The other day, a neighbor dropped by while we were sitting on the patio, and we got into a really good discussion. I let an f bomb or two drop – and this person, who has never heard me say it, busted out laughing and loosened up, like “hey, I can be for real.” It was kind of funny. How they were all polite and stiff until I regaled them with an “F” bomb or two.   I mean, I’m not uptight, or snooty as it is, but I don’t want them to think I’m crude either. Maybe I’m too late on that.

What word choice has changed your perception of someone, or a situation?

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