The Right Word

It’s time for my Sunday Reflection, in which I post some of my thoughts on almost any issue connected to writing, faith or life in general.

Have you ever been in a conversation where the person you were talking to started a sentence, then paused, seeming to search for not any word, but a particular word, the right word to insert into the thought he was trying to express? Have you ever known, surely and clearly, just what word he was searching for, even before he said it?

Or, have you ever heard someone use a word and thought to yourself, you’re close, but that’s not quite it, there’s a better word than that. Sometimes, a word seems like a good fit, it literally means the right thing, but the nuances of language usage and common idiom and so forth actually dictate that this is not the word, that there is another word, a word that is precisely right for just this situation. And when you hear this, your ear says no, this isn’t the right word.

It brings to mind an old saying I once heard attributed to Mark Twain, that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Well, I don’t know if either of these things have happened to you, but they have happened to me, and one of the things I take from this is that there is a joy to finding the right word that is hard for me to adequately express (maybe I just don’t yet know the right word for it:). The ear that learns to recognize the right word has to be trained, and it is trained primarily through reading, and then reading some more, and then reading something else.

For example, I have often said that it was learning about poetry in some of my excellent English classes in college that really gave me an ear for language. The economy of poetry, especially older, formal poetry, which all depends on word choice and arrangement – this can teach us a lot, even those of us who write long sprawling novels and who may at times think we have plenty of words to spare.

I wish you all the joy of both finding and using just the right word to say precisely whatever it might be that you wish to say.

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