Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Linguistic Spices

Writing Wednesday

I occasionally see discussions about swearing, both in literature for young people and adults. I've seen some writers affirm their determination not to stoop to such things. After mulling over the issues, I hit upon the following analogy. I'd like to hear what you think.

Spices are an interesting sub category of food that, to the best of my knowledge, have the common property of a little working wonders in a dish but too much ruining everything.

It's an interesting analogy: used sparingly and purposefully, linguistic spices (of which objectionable language is a subset) can convey volumes. Consider a character established as proper throughout the story who loses their composure at a critical moment. Or a villain, who when unmasked, chooses to show his contempt with contemptible language.

The analogy also applies in terms of tastes: young people are often not ready for spices (my son hasn't yet learned to appreciate some of the things I enjoy after living in New Mexico). A good host should try to serve foods their guests will enjoy.

But I wouldn't want to clear out my spice rack because some of the items might not be appropriate everyone's tastes. Doing so would be as limiting as adding cilantro to everything because it's the fashionable ingredient.

The attribute that should distinguish those of us who call ourselves writers from other people who put words together is our ability to use language to achieve an intended effect. To that end we ought to master all the facets of our language so that we can write with intent and use the right ingredient for the job from a full, rich palette.

Image: Simon Howden /

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