The Difference Between the Almost Right Word and the Right Word …

by | Nov 29, 2018

It is not unusual for people to comment on my vocabulary. Although it is typically not critical, I feel squeamish. How can people not know these — to my mind — perfectly ordinary words and how can they function without them?

Maybe it’s like a chef who uses a whole array of knives whereas a home cook (aka me) is happy with three (often dull) ones. In my mind, the difference is you can get away with dull knives but you can’t get away without communicating.

I once asked a writing friend if she ever got flak for her vocabulary and she said absolutely. “How do you respond,” I asked her? “I feel so awkward when people comment on the words I use.”

I wish I could remember her response because it was perfectly worded (ha ha!) but it went something like this: “I’m using that word because it’s the exact word needed to describe what I’m talking about.” She said it with such aplomb and confidence that I immediately resolved to not feel so self-conscious about my vocabulary. I can’t say that I have kept my vow, it’s a work in progress, and we all know that can be slow going!

I was reminded of this issue this morning when I was talking to someone about their baby learning to swim. Although the child really loves the water, the mom admitted she wasn’t ready to read a book on the beach yet. I laughed because this lined up with an article I think someone needs to write for parenting magazines, which is how the really exciting moments are not when your child learns to walk, talk or gets potty trained, so much as when you can sleep through the night, leave your child to run to the store to grab milk, and read a book at the beach without having to constantly keep eyes on your child.

I kept referring to these events as landmarks but it was bugging me because I knew that was not the word I wanted. When the woman/mom suggested “milestone,” it was as if a sneeze that was threatening finally came. The release and the relief! It is kind of indescribable, much as I hate to admit that!!

Some might say landmark and milestone are not that far apart in meaning and they wouldn’t be wrong. Clearly the woman understood the point I was trying to make. But still and all, when I find just the right word, I feel unspeakable joy and satisfaction. Is that one thing that makes me a writer? I wonder. What do you think? Have you had the same experience with finding just the right word?

My favorite Mark Twain quote is, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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