Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Irony of Irony (Confusing Words Part 5 of 12)

For the past few years I kept hearing people use irony in such a way that I began to wonder if I knew what the word meant. Today the word seems to mean unusual. But that's not the true definition. Irony refers to words that convey meanings opposite of their literal meaning.

Here are two examples of irony.

1. When I told my C-grade classmate that I had received an A, his ironic reply was, "How nice." (He didn't mean it was nice.)

2. "This is a magnificent view," Joan's mother said ironically, as she stared out the window at the neighbor's brick wall.

Here's a typical use of the word as I hear it today: "How ironic that I can't go to Bible study tomorrow night," the seminary student said, "because I have to prepare for a test on the New Testament." This statement passes for what some call irony because it's unusual. There's no intended opposite meaning.

Words are my tools, and I try to use words properly, 
even if others don't.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Notoriety (Confusing Words Part 4 of 12)

Here's a word that's taken on the opposite of its long-held meaning. The word referred to being famous or well-known, but it had a negative connotation. Today, the word seems to mean famous or well-known without any negative meaning intended.

Although I know that's the common misuse, I'll stick with famous for the positive and notorious for the negative. Even if you choose to use notoriety, please understand that some people may think you're making a negative statement.

Others may ignore differences in meaning, 
but I'm a professional.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Helpmeet and Helpmate (Confusing Words Part 3 of 12)

To my surprise, I still find people using the term helpmeet, or sometimes they change it to helpmate, thinking that was the intended meaning. The term helpmeet came about because Bible readers misunderstand the meaning of those two words in the KJV of Genesis 2:20: "But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." The word meet in those days meant fitted for or suitable. Until Eve, Adam had no companion suitable as a mate.

Words change in meaning.
I stay up with those changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Honorarium (Confusing Words Part 2 of 12)

Many people speak of an honorarium, which is another euphemism for fee or payment. An honorarium is a reward for an act for which custom or tact forbids setting a fixed amount. That is, the giver offers something for which there is no legal or moral obligation.

However, usage has extended the meaning to mean payment for service. Don't we constantly hear of giving an honorarium for the keynote speaker at a writers conference? Today, the term usually means they take up an offering or they have a set fee.

One professional speaker said, "When they use the word honorarium, they usually mean they'll pay me less than my standard fee."

Fee is a good word;
I'm not afraid to use it when I discuss money.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Euphemisms (Confusing Words Part 1 of 12)

Euphemisms are softened and inoffensive words or phrases to cover or suggest something unpleasant. Although we still use them today, many of them are so ingrained we hardly realize them as euphemisms.

For example, after my wife died, it amazed me how few people used words like death. Instead they talked of her passing, going to heaven, or departed. One friend actually said, "She has shuffled off this mortal coil" (probably referring to the words of Hamlet).

Perhaps my friends thought they were protecting me with their euphemistic terms, but, for me, Shirley died. Their word choice spoke to me about their inability to speak directly.

Euphemisms have a long history. At one time, no one in polite company referred to a leg. It was always a limb. Two years ago, an older woman told me she had been shopping and bought unmentionables. I think she meant underwear.

I'm for the direct approach. If we rely on euphemisms, it implies that we're not able to deal with reality. Instead, we find nice, inoffensive ways to say things with which we're not comfortable.

As a writer, 
I like to say what I mean clearly.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: But I’m a Christian! (Part 4 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

A fashionable college freshman in my church came to me after I preached and said, “I really like your sermons.”

I was curious. “I’m as old as your father. And I don’t even try to be a hipster. Why do you like my sermons?”

“Because you’re real.”

She didn’t want pizzazz or cool. She wanted authenticity. It’s the same in writing.

But when we write, we might be legitimately concerned and think: A Christian wouldn’t do that! Or a Christian wouldn’t think that! Whatever “that” is for you, I’ve probably either done it or thought it. You probably have too. So have the publishers, and so have the readers. At least some of them. Or they know someone. Or they used to.

And they deserve straight, unashamed writing from us. Whether we’re addressing drugs and human trafficking or confessing sexual sin or anger, readers need us to be honest and realistic. And they’ll love us for it. Because one of the last things Christians need to do is avoid things. Who else will bring light into darkness?

Do we write about being good, or do we write about being redeemed?

We need authenticity in all sectors. However old or uncool you may be, don’t worry. However young and cool you may be, don’t be smug. Be real. The world is so full of superficiality that people are hungry for those who are uncommonly genuine.

This is especially true in the Christian sphere. We carry the burden, whether real or imagined, of having to fit into an acceptable mold. Within that mold the things we write easily get boring and predicable.

Good news: It’s very Christian to be real. Let’s use another word for it: honesty. Or truthfulness. Or authentic. As opposed to fake, superficial, phony.

One of the great things about the Bible is how shockingly real it is with people’s sins and foibles. May that be one of the great things about your writing too. 

 —Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: Guts (Part 3 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

Having guts is not the first thing that most of us would list as characteristics of good writing. Legendary editor Sol Stein would disagree:
A long time ago I took an oath never to write anything inoffensive. 
In working with literally hundreds of authors over a period of many years, I concluded that the single characteristic that most makes a difference in the success of an article or nonfiction book is the author’s courage in revealing normally unspoken things about himself for his society. It takes guts to be a writer. . . .
The novelist has it easier. He hides a little—just a little—under the presumption that he is making things up. We all know that the most truth-bearing parts of superior fiction aren’t “made up.” (Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, p. 242)
Look at whatever you’re writing, whether a book or article, fiction or nonfiction. Ask yourself questions such as:

-What are you holding back?

-If you could say something without any backlash, what would you say?

-If you expressed something, or raised a subject, that might be offensive or taboo to some readers—but not to God—what would that be?

The point is not to be offensive but to be real. How can we expect readers to be honest with God or themselves if we’re not? We set the example. We are leaders on the page.

What illicit topic in your nonfiction article or book needs to be raised? What dark aspect of your novel’s story ought to be expressed? Do you benefit readers by avoiding topics that they wish you would confront? They need your example, your insight, your guidance.

Besides the limits of common sense and godliness, make sure that what you write doesn’t get you in big trouble or deeply hurt someone you write about. Exercise wisdom. But most of all exercise courage. 

—Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com