Monday, September 12, 2011

Words We Choose

The moving commemorations of the disaster of the bombing of the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania played out on television yesterday brought back vivid memories of the horror we saw unfolding that terrible day. What will children, not yet born, write 30 years from now about the terrorist acts carried out on 9/11/2001? Will they be able to retell stories of families directly affected by these acts of terror? Will they be able to discern our disgust and fears? Will they understand the rebirth of patriotism that followed? How will they know these things?

Our duty as writers is to write down facts or tell a true story so truthfully and with such erudite choice of words that the reader, who may know nothing about the event, can sense our aching hearts, our anger, disgust, shock, fear, patriotism and incomprehension at what occurred. While writing we need to examine exactly what happened, research the hows and whys, and understand what we want to say when we write. We should think of our potential audience and write in ways that convey the feelings as well as the facts of a particular incident. We need to recreate in the reader’s mind the events as they unfolded, people’s reaction to them at the time and what impact this incident left on our consciousness.

Thesauri are helpful to find the right words; they can tell us synonyms for disgust such as abhor, loathe, and abominate. Do we really mean to write that the actions of the terrorists made us despise or abhor those responsible or do we mean to say that we disliked them or found them intolerable? These words carry slightly different impacts from each other although all are listed in a thesaurus as a synonym for ‘disgust.’ Did I dislike the terrorists? No, I abhorred them! Were their actions intolerable? No, they were repugnant, vile, foul.

Choosing the correct word should tell a future reader exactly what Americans felt during 9/11 or ten years later. The words should tell the readers the awe we all felt when the first person landed on the moon. Did we watch with pleasure, with wonderment, with admiration or with disbelief? Exactly what did we feel? How did we feel and act when the Berlin Wall went down or the polio vaccine was first given? How are people in the future going to know exactly how things were unless we choose our words carefully? The retelling of an event or an experience is sometimes the easy part. The hard part is determining words that elicit the exact feeling or picture we are trying to recreate.


1. Walk the dog.

2. Make coffee.

3. Enter Writing North Idaho's BRILLIANT BEGINNINGS contest (see details in upper left corner of this page.)

4. Write!

1 comment:

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

English is such a rich language, and yet unless I am deliberate about choosing the right word, I tend to rely on the same well-worn phrases. Thanks for the reminder to strive for that right word.