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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Words Have Power


Writers understand this better than most. The way we describe things shapes what people think about them. We've recently seen a powerful and awful example of this with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture.  We know that enhanced interrogation is the same as torture but somehow describing it as enhanced interrogation makes it sound more palatable than torture. The very word, torture, makes it impossible to pretend you don't know you're approving of something evil.

Politicians often go to great lengths to find names for laws that make them sound necessary and innocuous. Thus we end up with the Patriot Act  (PATRIOT being the acronym for " Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001"). Well, who could be against something like that? Obviously, almost no one but the devil is in the details and some of us are not so thrilled with some of the various tools required to intercept and obstruct.

Kentucky has a healthcare program which is very popular in the state and Tennessee's governor is in favor of passing the same kind of legislation. I say, Kentucky's program is popular and it is - as long as you call it Kynect and not, heaven forbid, Obamacare  - although it is simply Obamacare by another name.

A male character, depending on the words a writer uses to describe him, can be wimpy or he can be sensitive; he can be commanding or he can be a bully. Is our blonde female a brassy blonde or does she have a palomino mane or, perhaps, flaxen locks - change a word or two and we conjure up pictures of three completely different women.

Per our description, the same weather can be a welcome friend or a mortal enemy. Does your character see that snow drifting down, piling softly around the house, as a fire blazes merrily in the fireplace, as cozy or does it seem endless, as she wonders when she'll be able to leave, while she takes a mental inventory of the food she has in the house. Is she enclosed by the quiet beauty of the snow or imprisoned by the harsh isolation of it?

Words are not just words, they are emotions. They are persuaders. They are weapons or they are salvation. They have power - and they confer their power on us. To be writers, word people - sometimes that seems like an awesome honor as well as an awesome responsibility.

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