Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Words, They Mean Nothing...Or Do They?

A month or so ago I read this book:
I knew I probably wouldn't like it because it sounded too cozy for my taste.  And I was right about that!  Mostly I bought it because it takes place in northern Michigan and features a lighthouse and one of my hobbies has been taking pictures of lighthouses around Michigan.  If you follow me on Facebook then you've probably seen pictures like this:
That one is from somewhere by Holland.  Grand Haven?  Whatever.  Anyway, I'm not talking about lighthouses today.

In that Lighthouse Keeper book the author did one thing that really annoyed me:  she kept having characters brush back "a strand" of hair.  The problem for me was a strand of hair is ONE HAIR and it's almost impossible to brush back one solitary strand by itself.  Even more ridiculous was when she mentioned a character pulling on "a spiky strand."  A single hair can't be spiky!

Now to be fair, when I checked the dictionary like the 5th or 6th definition said a strand could also refer to a tress of hair or many hairs.  So if you want to get technical the author wasn't wrong.

The same thing for my favorite petulant writer, John Oberon.  In one sentence he says, "the creature recommenced the siege on the tree."  To me siege means blockading something to starve them out.  You know, laying siege to a castle and whatnot.  Again, though, one of the alternate definitions can mean attacking something.  So it's not technically wrong.

Still the problem is because I as the reader think of the word a certain way because I've always heard it used that way and you use it a different way, then it's kind of annoying.  I'll think you're wrong and don't know what the fuck you're talking about unless I go look it up in the dictionary.

I don't know if there's much an author can do about this.  You can't know how every single person is going to think of each word.  Still, in some cases maybe just use the most obvious word.


  1. The repetition of using the phrase would bother me more than using the word "strand" as I probably wouldn't notice that as not being the best word choice. A lot of writers get into a habit with some phrase over and over. That's why it's good to put the book away once it's done and read it again in two months or have an editor.

  2. Back when I was trying to find a literary agent I was told to dumb down my words. I never did get an agent.

  3. I had no idea you enjoyed taking pics of lighthouses !
    Seems like I'll be avoiding this book.

  4. It's tough coming up with a new way to say things, but that doesn't mean we should all start using more obscure definitions of words most of us already are familiar with. Unless it's central to the story, little mannerisms like pushing back your hair shouldn't be repeated too often anyway.

  5. I'll help the author out thanks to a dictionary: fiber of hair, filament of hair, rope of hair, string of hair, length of hair, lock of hair. It's hard to come up with different ways to say the same thing because most of these words, while accurate, are probably confusing. Everyone knows "strand". Still feels lazy but that's just me.

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