Monday, January 22, 2018

Are You a Word Nerd?

Kory Stamper wrote a book entitled WORD BY WORD. In it she states that there are people who spend their work time writing dictionary definitions for Merriam-Webster. They are “word nerds” who devote a considerable amount of their lives thinking about words, categorizing, describing and alphabetizing them. They are lexicographers.

She further observes that the last printed unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary astonishingly “took a staff of almost 100 editors and 202 outside consultants 12 years to write.” When a dictionary finally is published, these lexicographers have already moved on, working on an update, because “A dictionary is out of date the minute that it’s done.”

Are you a person who loves words? Do you play with them?
I confess I do. One reason I have continued to write poetry over the years is because as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Poetry consists of the best words in the best order.” I seek appropriate language to express my thoughts.

This is not a slight of prose. I love experimenting with novels, short stories, nonfiction and plays as well. But I think everyone who loves words should make an effort to try expressing themselves in poetic form. It makes us better prose writers in the long run.

As to dictionaries, my favorite has always been The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (unabridged). We had it in our home for many years and I loved examining the derivation of words. I still do, although I had to give our huge dictionary when we downsized from our house to an apartment. That and over a thousand other books were donated since I no longer had the space to keep them.

However, the internet today provides us with great help.
I can google words and retrieve all sorts of valuable information.

Being a word nerd helps me be a better writer. I am not satisfied unless I find the right words to express my ideas.
In THE BURNING, for example, I was writing from the point of view of George, a blue collar worker, a simple man who suddenly had to grapple with overwhelming problems. The language had to fit the character yet convey depth of meaning to the reader. It was a challenge.

So back to my original question: are you are a word nerd?
If so, does it benefit you as a writer and/or as a reader?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Social Conscience and the Written Word

Some years ago I wrote an article that was published by GUMSHOE REVIEW. It was entitled “Social Conscience in Modern Mystery Fiction” and remains in the archives. At the time I observed: “Many of today's mystery and crime fiction authors display significant elements of social conscience and/or awareness in their writing.”

I would now like to amend and expand my statement to observe that earlier mystery writers, particularly those who wrote noir, also demonstrated social conscience. To demonstrate this point, I recently read a review of a newly discovered Raymond Chandler story written not long before his death. The story, “It’s All Right: He Only Died,” appears in THE STRAND MAGAZINE’s holiday edition. In true Chandler style, the story is in the hard-boiled tradition. It condemns a doctor at a hospital who doesn’t want to care for a patient he believes to be indigent.

Writing stories that make a significant point is a worthy effort. Mystery writers often act as a moral conscience to society—as do writers in general.

My last work, THE BURNING, is not a mystery, more of a thriller, but it is meaningful. It’s about a family surviving an environmental disaster. It deals with matters that need to concern everyone living on our planet.

Have you read or written any stories or novels that you consider socially relevant? Your thoughts and comments welcome.