Choosing the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs allows the reader to understand the message the writer intends. This week we discussed the importance of the choices we make in writing and speaking.
We watched this clip called “Word Choice” from an old t.v. show, Friends.
After watching the clip we visualized the idea of using longer, but not necessarily stronger, words with an exercise involving thread, string, and a rope. Unravelling a very long piece of thread, a medium piece of string, and a short piece of rope, we realized that although the thread was a lot longer than the string and the rope, it was by no means stronger than the other two. That was the same lesson Chandler and Monica tried to teach Joey, aka Baby Kangaroo, when Joey wrote his letter. While we want to “sound smart”, too many long words strung together sometimes confuse the meaning. More succinctly put, longer doesn’t equal stronger.
Look at the three items below. Which is the strongest? Which is the longest? Just because something is longer, it is not necessarily stronger. Check out this blog post .
We also read this short excerpt from our text books:
As a girl wept under a tree, a woman suddenly appeared. She waved a magic stick. A vegetable turned into a vehicle. With another movement of the woman’s stick, the girl’s torn clothing turned into a beautiful dress. Overjoyed, the girl thanked the woman and rode to the party in a building.
How long did it take you to realize the lines above relate the story of Cinderella? It took some of the students in our class until the third sentence; some of us needed even more information than that. Cinderella becomes very unfamiliar when specific nouns are replaced with general ones. Word choice is important.
We used more household items to illustrate this point. Is it better to say eating utensil or fork? Eating utensil or spoon? Even though “eating utensil” might feel ‘smart’ (think Joey), these longer words are less precise than spoon or fork.
Other times, we really do need adjectives to help us understand what the writer wants to convey.
While all the items pictured at right are sticks, they are very different kinds of sticks. It would be extraordinarily difficult to eat with yardsticks or drumsticks, wouldn’t it? Likewise, measuring distance with Popsicle sticks or chopsticks is equally tricky. We listed the items as yardstick, drumstick, chopstick, and Popsicle stick. Guess what some students wanted to call the very last stick I showed them? A tree stick! After a little laugh, we realized that changing the noun to branch or twig was a better alternative than using the adjective tree with the noun stick. We tried the same exercise using a paper cup, a measuring cup, and a coffee cup. Some of us wanted to use mug rather than coffee cup.
Whether writing a letter of recommendation or a fairy tale about a princess, choosing just the right word is an important skill for an author.
Here are 182 Questions to Write or Talk About from The Learning Network with the Ny Times. Peruse the list and write a response to one of the questions.
Practice your best writing! Choose your words carefully.