Friday, August 28, 2009

For Lack of a Better Word

The more I write, the more I find myself disappointed in the English language. As much as I love words, there just aren't enough of them, and so many have been ruined--overused and abused to the point that they seem trite and pointless. It's a constant struggle to find a proper means of expression.

I think Steve Martin's character in Roxanne put it best:

"Words are all used up, they're hard to say...they've all been wasted on the shampoo commercials and the ads and the flavorings. Hollow, beautiful words. How can you love a floor wax? How can you love a diaper? How can I use the same word about you that's used about a stuffing?"

Of course, he's talking about the word love, which is probably one of the grossest examples of word defilement and decimation. But there are plenty of others. One of my favorites is adult. Sure, by itself it doesn't sound so bad. But look what happens when you attach it to something, like: "adult book." Sounds like something with an XXX rating, doesn't it? And why is that? Because the porn--oh, I'm sorry, the "Adult Entertainment"--industry has latched onto it as a way of cleaning up their image. So now what do I say if I write a book for adults that isn't pornographic? Is it a Grown-Up book? An Older People book? A Mature Reader's book? Nothing works. I need better words.

And then there's all the times there's simply no word to describe something. What do I call my Grandma's second husband? My Step-Grandpa? Or what about his grandkids? Are they my Cousins-in-Law? Where's the word to describe this all too common phenomenon?

Or even better, what do you call a female between the ages of 18-30? If you call her a girl, everyone starts imagining jump ropes and pigtails. But calling her a woman sounds old and motherly. I happen to fall into this particular category and must admit, I don't even know what to call myself. What am I? According to my thesaurus I can be: a lady, a lassie, a damsel, a mademoiselle, a gal, a broad, a miss, or--my personal favorite--a tootsie. Are those really my only options? And why don't guys have this problem? They can be boys. They can be men. But they can also be guys. So where's our "in-between" term, girls? And how come we've taken the time to name that little ball of tissue hanging in the back of our throats (a uvula, in case you're now wondering) but we don't have a word for an enormous age demographic of our society? Am I the only one confused by this?

So what do I do? Do I rebel? Do I invent my own words and hope they someday end up in the dictionary? I suppose I could...but I doubt it would help me get published. No, I suppose I have no choice but to do what all my other fellow writers do. I must fight the fine fight the hard way, armed with a dictionary and a thesaurus and my own witty repertoire. And I suppose it's probably better that way. After all, if writing were easy, everyone would do it. And then where would that leave me?

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