Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writing the Right Words - Part 1

By: Barbara Ardinger (please see Barbara's bio at end of post)

As we know, English has the largest vocabulary of any language on the planet. Some English words are homophones, words that are pronounced alike but spelled differently. (The most famous example of homophones is “to,” “two,” and “too.”) If English were my second language, I might have used a homophone—“rite”—in my title. Lemme think about that…. “Rite words” might be words used in a ritual. But that’s not what I’m riting—ahem, writing—about. And I do not write in “texting,” where the point seems to be to shorten and misspell wherever possible. U no wht I mean abt rite wrds? (Did I do that right?)

My editing skills have helped some very intelligent people just coming to the English language. An Israeli author, for example, wrote “infect.” The first time I saw this, it didn’t make sense. The context has nothing to do with infection. I just sat here and shook my head until I finally figured it out. She meant “in fact.” A Brazilian author referred to the goddess Nikki. After reading a couple more paragraphs, I understood that she meant Nike. A very wise Mexican author wrote, “That indelible moment reinforced my belief in the effectiveness and plausibility of enjoying a dichotomy transcendence of completely diverse fundamental human attitudes.” That was a sentence I had to completely rewrite. He and I worked together to make his biography of Benito Juarez readable (and I learned a lot about the history of Mexico). It was even more fun when I was doing technical editing for a scientist born in Azerbaijan who wrote in Russian and used computer software to translate his articles on topics in physics. The scientist and I became friends while we were working together, and he patiently answered my every request for clarification.

But even if we were born in the U.S.A. and English is our first language, we sometimes miss the right words. Here are a few examples from books I’ve actually edited. “Kevin walks in Grandma’s direction. She stands in the umbra shaking nervously.” “I felt like I had been found guilty of a crime punishable by no cure. So just like the penile system, I locked myself away from society.” “Being disabled in a fast paced society seemed like trying to rock climb in the dessert.” “Then came a fast and bestial curve.” “The sound of the lock turning made a squeaky high-pitched noise, almost like a scream. The lock sang out once more and finally clicked. The hinges crooned a hideous caterwaul until the door slowly opened.” Sometimes an editor needs to have a functioning imagination.

Want more?!  Barbara has some great suggestions and a helpful link for would-be writers in part 2 of Writing the Right Words.  For the rest of this very interesting article, please stop by tomorrow! 

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (, is a published author and freelance editor. To date, she has edited more than 200 books, most of them for authors going to small, vanity, or on-demand presses. The 200 projects are both fiction and nonfiction and also include screenplays, children's books, academic discourse (textbooks and doctoral and master's theses), web site text, and some poetry. Fiction edited includes romance, action-adventure, science fiction, western, mystery, historical, speculative, and horror novels. Nonfiction edited includes philosophy (mostly mainstream metaphysics and New Age), Calvinist theology, holistic health, science and technology, political tracts, business topics, history, and memoirs and biography. The authors live around the U.S. and around the world, and for many of them, English is their second language. Barbara has also taught university classes in writing and public speaking and has worked as a technical editor (four different industries).

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the article and really liked the examples. Sheds light on our crazy & beautuiful language.