Friday, April 29, 2011

Chews Your Words Wisely

It’s a visual age. Adults and kids alike have their eyes on their Smartphones or iPads, making images whiz by onscreen with just a touch. Graphics rule.
When I worked in textbook publishing, we began to receive requests from teachers not to put so many words on the pages. “Students don’t read,” they said. “Show the key concepts graphically, so students can pick out what’s important.”
When I gave a lecture to a class of college students, I glanced at them as I read from my memoir. Nothing much was going on behind their expressions of polite attention. But when I began the accompanying slide show, every person in that room leaned forward. I could hear it happen.
Graphics. We even have graphic novels now—fiction that takes the form of a comic strip. I don’t think the whole world has suddenly abandoned traditional reading, but we can’t ignore these shifts.
We’re also in an age when storybooks read themselves, when sound can overtake the printed word. Grandpa can record his voice narrating a bedtime story and send the enhanced book to his grandchild. Mom can personalize a birthday card in the same way. It reminds me of a slogan from the past, the product forgotten: “It’s almost like being there.”
When we no longer read words, but merely hear them spoken aloud—say, in an electronic storybook, on television, or in conversation--our spelling suffers. When we have to write, we might struggle. Words that sound alike, but have different spellings and meanings, are among the biggest culprits. When we no longer read words, we often write the wrong word. And a spell checker isn’t going to catch it.
A sentence in a novel reads, “But it’s different now, it’s on a whole new plain.” The correct word would be plane.
A book about writing advises authors what to do if they are “waving” a fee. It should be waiving.
A fashion blogger writes, "I tend to add spice and flare..."  That last word should be flair, unless she is describing bell-bottom pants. 

And how many times have we been promised a "sneak peak" when a peek would have sufficed?
This appeared in a newspaper article: “…throngs of…women carrying their high heals walked along…” That one was later corrected online to high heels. Thank you!
In school I was bored by the repetitive nature of English classes; every year we learned the same things. I closed my eyes when I did the word-choice exercises in my workbook, looking after the fact to see which word I’d left uncovered by the pencil. I avoided vocabulary building. But somewhere along the line, I knew I had a feeling for it all, and now I’m not just a writer; I’m a watchdog.
In writing for others, I've made a habit of questioning my word choices and looking things up. This way, maybe I won't be the person who writes of a "hoarse" in a field. But he--or she--is out their. Whoops!

1 comment:

  1. Jane, this blog is so true!!! I feel like the entire world has gone technical!!! Your comment about the recordable storybooks is very true.I actually gave one to my Grandchildren for Valentines day. They love the story, because they can hear Grandma reading to them when I am not there. Both kids said they like it better when I read it because we snuggle! This is out of the mouths of babes.People don't have to think anymore. It seems like all people need today, are eyes, and fingers. Actually they have all this for the blind also. It is bitter sweet. Yes, technology has found away to speed things up with research, but my concern is, I feel that the function of the mind, is going to slow down, at an earlier age with the upcoming generations. Really great blog Jane, as usual!!!