I think I've mentioned before that I'm short. Short enough that in elementary school I got called shrimp by the boys. Nothing ticked me off more than Cade and Shaun (yeah, I remember their names) calling me Shrimpy Shallee. So I'd chase them, determined to pound some sense into them. It was really too bad I never caught them.
Choosing the Right Words, and the Hilarious Embarrassment of Failing to do so
Shallee ● Apr 25, 2011
At any rate, I eventually embraced my hobbity size. In fact, on a trip to Disneyland with the in-laws, I found a shirt in Tomorrowland. On the back was Yoda standing next to a "you must be this tall to ride this ride" sign. On the front, it read "Judge me by my size, do you?" I thought it was hilarious. It was a kids shirt, but I found one big enough to fit me.
Last year, we had another Disneyland trip with the in-laws, and I wore my shirt. When we stopped at a gas station, a guy started laughing when he saw the shirt.
"I need to get one of those for my girlfriend!"
I smiled. "Yeah, us short people should stick together!"
He gave me a confused look, and it wasn't until I got back to the car that I realized he thought my shirt meant something else. And really, who could blame him? I had "Judge me by my size, do you?" plastered across my chest.
I was mortally embarrassed, though now I can laugh about it. But it brings me to the actual point of this post-- words. And their meanings. As writers, words are our tools, and it's amazing to me what a difference a single word can make in my writing. Even now, I'm re-reading Devolutionaries on my Nook (I know-- AGAIN) and finding small things to tweak.
When you put a word into a sentence, it takes on meaning. If you switch that word out, even with a synonym, it can drastically change the whole context of a sentence. Mark Twain said it best: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
Sometimes, the wrong words, or just words in the wrong context, can be funny. But to really hit your reader with that stroke of lightning genius, you need the exact right word. It's hard to say what that word might be, and how to find it. I know for me, I get this quiet inner nudge when something isn't working right. I'm training myself to pay attention to that, so that even in edits, I can go back and change my lightning bug to lightning.
So what about you, my friends? Any stories about the wrong words causing hilarity? How do you know what the right words are, and how do you know when to change the wrong ones?
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