Updated: Mar 9, 2020
If you’re on the writing journey, you probably love words. I know I do. And as an editor, nothing makes me laugh more than a hilariously misused word.
a usually humorous misapplication of a word or phrase; specifically : a blundering use of a word that sounds somewhat like the one intended but is ludicrously wrong in the context
I collect malapropisms. My most recent acquisition came from a sermon. As the pastor taught on anger, this gem rolled off his lips:
“Anger is a motivator, an impotence, for action.”
That certainly weakened his message. His quote joins my other favorites:
“This scholarship will help elevate my financial stress.” Please don’t pick me! “If they don’t repent, they will reap what they have sewn!” Consequences tailored just for you. “My team is like a finally oiled machine.” But it took us a long time to get that way… “I found our roll models!” …for the new toilet paper commercial. “She incinerated that I was wrong.” Now I’m burning with anger.
All joking aside, words have power—I’ve always believed that. As a reader, words conjure our imagination. As a writer, they become the footsteps of our story. Consider these three tips for finding the right word.
Does the word mean what you think it means? When in doubt, pull out the dictionary, lest you end up in malapropism territory. Is your word choice specific, or too general? Make friends with the thesaurus.
2. Tone Word choice is critical to conveying not only our intended meaning, but also our tone. Tone is how you express your mood or attitude through your writing. Tone could be joyful, depressed, guilty, warm, humorous—any emotion you can feel you can convey through words. Are the words you’re choosing conveying the tone you intend? Are your word choices creating contradictory tones?
Related to tone is connotation. While a word may technically convey the meaning you intend, some words have natural associations that may not match the tone you’re going for. For example:
“God’s awareness of all that I need or want is explicit.”
The author is using the word explicit correctly in context to mean that God knows fully what we need. However, the word explicit has a sexual connotation, as it is most commonly used to refer to mature or inappropriate content. In this case, the word association is hindering the writer’s tone.
The wonderful thing about writing is that all those word choices uniquely reflect you. And when you find the right word, it’s a beautiful thing.