Henry David Thoreau Quote: The Key to Selling Anything

Henry David Thoreau Quote I have great faith in a seed... Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders“I have great faith in a seed… Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” Wow. To me, this Henry David Thoreau quote summarizes the main idea of selling your work to a publisher or a producer.* Heck, it’s the key to selling anything. And the two key words?

“Convince me.”

The Seed & the Idea

The seed is important. Never doubt that because it’s absolutely true. The promise of the seed, the map of it – because that’s what a seed is, right? – that is what you’re selling when you’re selling an idea. You’re telling them that you have a plan.

Because a seed is more than an idea. And this is where the makeup of an actual seed becomes useful in this metaphor. Seeds hold DNA for a plant, right? The blueprints for how the plant will work and what it will be. That’s the idea part. But there’s also energy. There’s food for that idea. Enough to feed it until it can begin to feed itself. Enough to get it started, to get that energy going.

Those are the elements of an idea that you need in order to sell it. No only the idea but also how it’s going to grow. And what’s going to help it grow.

Convincing (Persuasion)

That’s the other half of the equation, and unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as half. A really charismatic salesperson who’s good with all 3 appeals can convince you that a pretty bad idea has potential. On the other hand, if a person has a really fantastic idea, that person could be a worse salesperson (not horrible, but worse).

Unfortunately, the ability to convince and the willingness of the audience to be convinced can be much more important than the idea itself. In other words, if you already want to believe in the idea, then, it doesn’t even have to be that good of a salesperson. And if you’re naturally inclined against the idea, the salesperson had better be outstanding. (But I stray…).

That’s why the plan and energy of the idea are so important. You might even call them the key to selling anything.

If you convince someone that your idea has the energy to start and grow to be self-sustaining, then you’ve convinced them that the idea has potential. That’s when the value of the idea itself matters. It doesn’t matter how good the idea is if they don’t think it’ll go anywhere (or anywhere they want to go).

So what’s holding you back? Take your idea and flesh it out with the energy and the plan for making it take off!

*I haven’t even tried to sell a book or play yet, but I have worked in several sales jobs, including direct marketing and realty.

John Steinbeck Quote: Ideas Are Like Rabbits

john steinbeck quote ideas are like rabbits

Well, not the chocolate ideas. They have the opposite problem…

You know, this John Steinbeck quote is beautifully simple, straightforward, and true: “Ideas are like rabbits.” Even the imagery and simile of the beginning by itself imply the meaning since rabbits’ reproductive speed is a well-known cultural joke. When it’s expanded into an analogy, it’s patently clear:

It’s easy to be overrun by ideas.

Simple, right? In fact, I think I already touched on that when I talked about making sure you have some way of recording ideas for later use. I even posted a similar quote of my own about ideas last Easter.

So why post this John Steinbeck quote?

Well, since you asked (*cough*), there are a couple of reasons.

  1. I like it. (And it’s my blog, so I’ll post what I want. Thbbbt!)
  2. I wanted to make a creepy bunny image for it. (I ain’t right…)
  3. I’m moderately disturbed by it when considering some of Steinbeck’s books – 1 in particular.

Have you ever read Of Mice and Men? Doesn’t this John Steinbeck quote have weird overtones when considered in context with that book?

“Ideas are like rabbits…”

So we want to pet them and then accidentally kill them? They’re a pipe dream that will never be realized because we’re not capable of it?

I know, I know. I’m being too literal, and I’m overthinking it.

But, if you do really think about it, don’t those two questions add another aspect to the quote that are also true? I don’t know about you, but I’ve killed a few ideas in my time. I wasn’t trying to hurt them… That didn’t change the end result. And as much as we like to think that we can always try an idea again, in my experience, there are limits to that.

Like burnout, not having the right skill set, not being able to let go of ideas within it, etc.

Then, there’s the second question. Are these ideas just pipe dreams that we’ll never be able to realize? Again, I have to say, “Yes.” At least some of them.

Think of it this way: I’m still pretty young, so I could (potentially) live another 50+ years. I have new ideas at a rate of about 3 to 30 a day. I realize about 1 a day. Maybe. Or less. Some days, I might be able to use more if they can be merged together into something. Or if I’m somehow amazingly productive.

But that’s roughly 36,500 to 529,250 ideas that I won’t be able to use in my lifetime. I guess I could will them to someone else, but if other writers and artists have this same problem, then all I’m doing is adding to the number of ideas that they won’t be able to use.

And, really, who’s going to use my idea when they could use their own? Maybe, people who aren’t good at coming up with ideas; however, in that case, would I even want them to? Would they be able to explore the idea to its full potential?

So this quote went from a straightforward, kinda funny, and definitely true view about how ideas multiply to a macabre, dark, depressing, and possibly true view of how ideas multiply too much.

This might be one of those ideas I killed…

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Or are you going to bury this knowledge deep in your psyche as soon as you finish reading so that you don’t have to look at it again?

*Do I have an artsy prejudice against the writing skills of non-idea-generating people? Hmmmm… That’s worrisome.

10 Fun Made-up Words from Movies, Books, and Musicals

fun made-up words from movies books and musicals

That’s what fun made-up words make you do. Admit it.

Hurray for neologisms! (and neologists!) These fun made-up words from movies, books, and musicals will keep you smiling – especially when you start throwing them around in conversation!

10 Neologisms (Fun Made-up Words)

 1. Thneed

Picking a single neologism from Dr. Seuss books is quite a challenge. His amusing, rhythmic stories rely on fun made-up words more than perhaps any other author’s works (AKA nonsense words). I finally settled on a thneed by deciding that people and places wouldn’t be included in this article (This would be a lot longer list if I included every made-up name of a person, country, or language!).

And like many of Dr. Seuss’ made-up words, “thneed” is fun to say, which is always a plus with neologisms. English just doesn’t combine “th” with “n” very often without using something in between like, I don’t know, a vowel.

Besides, “a thneed is a thing that everyone needs.”

2. Psammead

Ever read Five Children and It by E. Nesbit? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, especially for kids who enjoy imaginative stories and dryly humorous British narrators (You know what I mean.). This particular story (and several others about the same children) features the Psammead, a sand fairy.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea how to pronounce Psammead. I guess I could watch the movie (AKA cheat and learn someone’s idea of how to pronounce it), but that would take all the fun out of trying!

3. Hooficure

Yes, even the new My Little Ponies has neologisms. This one seems decently self-explanatory. In fact, it makes more sense than a manicure at first glance (that is, until you find out that the Latin root “man” means “hand”).

4. Snicker-snack

You know what it’s from. In fact, you’ve probably listened to celebrities read “The Jabberwocky” recently. Like Dr. Seuss’ work, “The Jabberwocky” is full of fun made-up words. I like this one because it’s not only a neologism – it’s also a fun example of onomatopoeia.

Granted, I have no specific definition for it. But that’s part of the appeal of the poem, isn’t it? And neologisms, too, come to think of it.

5. Foodimals

These creatures from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 are named from an obvious combination of words. Other than adding an appropriate suffix, it’s one of the oldest techniques of making up new words. It’s also one of the best for getting the point across in a hurry while still using a fun made-up word.

Go ahead, take a wild swing and guess what a foodimal is. Did you guess an animal made out of food? Some sort of food animal? (Really, what else would you guess?) Then, you’ve pretty much got the idea.

6. Pensieve

$10 says you recognize this one!

Not really. I can’t afford to make bets and start a new business at the same time. Still, I would expect that you’ve at least heard this word from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Like many of these authors, Rowling made up quite a few fun words in her books. She also did a lot of word play and re-defining existing words.

Pensieve holds a special place in my heart 1. because I want one (seriously, my mind is kind of turning into a stereotypical wizard’s tower room: so full of randomly interesting stuff that it’s hard to find what you were looking for – whatever the word for that was), and 2. because it’s a pun. And who doesn’t like a good pun? (If you can find one!)

7. Snarfblat

Aren’t you glad we don’t live back in the days when all people had to do was stare at each other? Now, instead, we don’t have to look at each other at all except through little screens! Awesome, am I right?

This little gem from The Little Mermaid is a fun made-up word and definition for a real thing. Which only goes to show how important it is to have a reliable resource when looking for information. In other words, don’t ask a seagull.

8. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

I absolutely love that spell check knows how to spell this! There are dotted red lines under half of these words – not this one! Heh. Maybe, I typed loudly enough to sound precocious, so the spellcheck assumed I knew what I was doing.

For those of us who grew up with Mary Poppins as children, this word (and its song) have a special place in our hearts. Those who didn’t probably just rolled their eyes and said, “Don’t expect me to try to say that!”

Well, it is one of the most ambitious of our fun made-up words…

9. Yabba dabba doo!

Is this a fun made-up word or a fun made-up phrase? (Depends on who’s spelling it)

I like to think that this neologism came from animators and screenwriters sitting around and making caveman noises. Either that, or a voice actor getting so caught up in the character that he starts spouting nonsense. (It may be closer to the second one if you believe this article about its origin.)

Wherever it came from, if you know the Flintstones, you know this word!

10. Cowabunga!

Last, but certainly not least, comes the catchphrase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I hate to say that it actually came from The Howdy Doody Show and was used in circumstances that would probably be considered offensive today. But if you’re like me and want to pretend you never heard that, hit play, close your eyes, and listen to the Master.

That’s it folks! Until next neologisms (Wouldn’t that make a great holiday?), happy word making!

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil Is That Good Men Do Nothing

The Only Thing Necessary for Evil to Triumph is for good to do nothing

Like “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” this quote has somewhat dubious origins. Read on for more info.

It’s a very powerful, motivating statement: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In a speech, it would get a strong response from the audience. Because it feels true. It is not, however, the best advice for plotting a novel.

Is the Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil That Good Men Do Nothing?

The Saying

My main issue with this colloquialism as plot advice is that it suggests that good men doing something will automatically defeat evil. In an emotional, even symbolic, sense, that could be true. In a plot climax, there should be a little more to it. After all, if you’re really plotting against your characters (like you should be), then, the scales are loaded against them.

Participation alone isn’t enough. They have to sweat for it.

Yes, I realize that the main point is that the inaction of good is a guaranteed win for evil (a valuable point), but as far as plot complications go, what if good takes the wrong action? Couldn’t that also help evil win? What if evil anticipates good’s actions and uses it to win? Complications like that make the plot a lot less straight forward and, generally, more interesting.

Of course, the “original” quotes offer slightly different advice.

The “Original” Quotes

I put original in quotes because it’s still somewhat uncertain. According to Quote Investigator, there is no evidence of that exact quote being said or written. But there is evidence of similar quotes by some of the same authors and speakers the saying is attributed to.

Reverend Charles F. Aked

In 1916, Reverend Charles F. Aked said one of the most similar versions when supporting Prohibition.

“It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose, it is only necessary for good men should do nothing.”

I’d say that this one is good for two things plot-wise: 1. inspiration for a motivational speech that relies on emotional appeals and 2. verification that without resistance (A.K.A. conflict), there is no story.

And there’s a part of me that feels like the quote needs a footnote: *Assuming the evil men aren’t totally incompetent. In that case, all bets are off.

Edmund Burke

The earliest version, and my personal favorite (plot-wise) was recorded in 1770 when Edmund Burke gave a bit of variation on the advice.

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

This reminds me of “The Hangman” with its emphasis on inaction leading to people falling one by one. This one touches on the point of view of the “bad men” – with their lack of empathy. It also hints at the additional dangers of villains joining forces (generally more dangerous than a single opponent).

Unlike the others, this one also emphasizes the good people working together rather than simply acting. Instead of saying that good people need to do something, it says that they need to do something together. An interesting point.

So why isn’t this quote more famous? It has more depth. It has more important points for people to consider. Wouldn’t that make it more valuable? Wouldn’t that make people more interested in it?

Nope.

And if you want to check out more possible origins to the saying on Quote Investigator, you’ll find it’s not the only quote with facets that got left out of the saying.

What’s the Takeaway?

I guess there are a couple of big ideas involved in this random babble.

  1. Shorter words will usually win.
  2. People respond more to emotional appeals than logical ones.
  3. People have been misquoting for centuries.
  4. Popular quotes aren’t always the best plot advice.

Who knew? (Ok, ok. Don’t rub it in.)

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

A_One-track_Mind writing prompt challenge

Around and around they go…

Yes, the phrase “a one-track mind” often has connotations of X-rated content; however, all it really means is that person is fixated on a specific topic. It could be a video game that a person loves, a show someone watches all the time, a favorite author, a significant other, politics, world news, dieting, a pet – anything a person could obsess over. So what is a one-track mind writing prompt challenge?

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

Technically, I guess, there are two writing prompt challenges for the one-track mind: general characterization and an argument.

A One-track Mind as General Characterization

Using a one-track mind mentality as general characterization is an old trick to automatically make a character a little quirky and add comic relief. I bet if I named a couple of obsessions, you could think of characters that have them as character quirks (Obsessions: advances in technology, a specific celebrity, travel, or fashion – If you think of a character, name the character and quirk in the comments.).

The first steps to this writing prompt aren’t as much of a challenge:

  1. Pick a character.
  2. Pick a fixation. It could go with the character and the character’s occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with cars), or it could be a contrast to the character and occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with ballet).
  3. Establish ground rules for the level of obsession and how well the character can control the urge to go on a tangent about the fixation.

You can do that, right?

Keeping it consistent is where the challenge comes in. If you’ve established that the character always brings the conversation back to a specific topic, then, can there be exceptions? What if you have a scene where you can’t afford to lose the momentum by including that tangent?

That’s why the third step is so important. Setting up solid rules and following them from the beginning can give you a major advantage as far as consistency of character behavior. And if you run into a spot where you need to move forward but it would mean breaking a rule, consider outside interference (“Oh my God, Joe – you can look at the car after we save the world!”).

A One-track Mind in an Argument

Whether the character usually has a one-track mind or not, he or she can still get locked into a single track in a specific situation. I see this as a huge balloon blown up in a room: there may be other, more important items scattered around it, but you can’t see them because the balloon is so overwhelming. Once the balloon is popped, however, you realize that it was just air – no substance.

When a character gets stuck on a specific fact or idea, it’s like that idea is taking up so many brain cells that the person can’t process things right in front of him or her. The balloon is blocking them from sight.

This usually inspires an argument from the characters who can see around the balloon. And if those characters need to get around the one-track mind to move forward, well, that could be a problem. Arguments like this tend to go around in circles because the one-track mind isn’t really registering or accepting opposing arguments.

Figuring how to deflate that balloon is a challenge, and doing so while trying to hold down the frustration from the circular arguments is even harder. In fact, it may be impossible for your characters. And exposing that difficulty adds realism.

Want to give it a try? Here’s one way to practice.

  1. Pick a set of characters. Or create new ones.
  2. Select a goal they’re trying to accomplish that a single person could stop or stall.
  3. Choose the opponent (the person with the one-track mind – it could be one of the group or someone outside of it).
  4. Find a fixation.
  5. List ways each protagonist would try to overcome the fixation.
  6. Think of how each character would react to that circular conversation.
  7. Decide what (if anything) would actually make the fixated person change tracks.
  8. Write the scene using the parts picked in steps 1-7. You may not get to use all of the options you thought of for 5, especially depending on 6. Also, if the characters wouldn’t think of the answer to 7, then you probably can’t use it.

Whoa, that’s a long list. And a bit nit-picky. You can use it as a starting point or take the idea of the confrontation and do it your own way. If this exact method doesn’t work for your writing style, I wouldn’t want you to get stuck on it – a one-track mind writing prompt challenge is fine, but not a one-track mind that keeps you from writing the best story you can!

 

Ordinary Life Quote by Harvey Pekar: The Key to Realism

ordinary life quote by Harvey Pekar key to realism

This ordinary life quote by Harvey Pekar is one of those extremely simple, straightforward quotes that manages to be extremely deep and complicated, as well.

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”  — Harvey Pekar

That’s true, right? It feels true, anyway. And (IMHO), that’s the key to realism – complexity. It’s the little everyday details that are easy to forget when writing, things that you do every day but don’t think about. Like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, having clean clothes, cleaning up after the dog, or checking your email.

But the complexity also comes from the unexpected twists of fate (or Murphy’s Law). It’s when you have car troubles the week when you don’t have time to take it to the mechanics or the dog throwing up when you’re already late for work. It’s the job offer you get when you weren’t looking, the sudden illness that wipes out your PTO, or the rainstorm when the forecast was sunny. And it’s the scent of honeysuckle when you’re standing next to your broken down car, the heat of newly printed papers on a cold day, and an unexpected gift from a stranger.

When you’re talking big plot conflicts (like the main one that the protagonist is trying to resolve), these details are little bumps in the road – the sort of events that aren’t even included in the plot summary; however, they’re also the little rich details that build realism.

Of course, matching life’s complexity in a plot can be pretty difficult. And if a book was really as unpredictable as life, readers would get mad at it for breaking promises.

It’s sad but true. See, we expect a certain amount of synchronicity from books (meaningful coincidences, anyway), and if we don’t get it, we don’t like the book (unless you’re the literary, “Yes! Break those rules!” type.). In life, on the other hand, you can expect synchronicity all you want, but you’re not going to get it. It might even weird you out if you do (“Woah! Déjà vu!”).

Wait a minute! Doesn’t that mean that writers have to make the story complicated and unexpected enough to make it realistic enough but at the same time make it predictable enough to follow? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you that writing is easy. They lie (and not simply to tell a good story).

But I guess that’s just another example of how life is “complex stuff.”

8 Nose Quotes from Page, Stage, & Screen

fake glasses nose quotes

Sometimes a nose is just a nose

Why I am I writing about nose quotes? To be honest, I was listening to a show, heard a funny quote about noses, and thought, “Hey! That could be an article.” But noses really are an often-overlooked-yet-persistent part of stories. To help inspire you to use the overlooked or unexpected, here are 8 nose quotes from page, stage, & screen.

A Sampling of Nose Quotes for Writers

1. Cyrano de Bergerac

When talking about famous noses, really, where else could you start but with Cyrano?

As tragedies go, this one has a plethora of wit as well as a plethora of nose (poor Cyrano), and said nose has a central role in the plot. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case if Cyrano had only believed his own words:

“… a big nose is indicative
Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous,
Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such
As you can never dare to dream yourself…”
— Cyrano from Cyrano de Bergerac

2. Pinocchio

Another obvious choice. The quote, however, is not from the movie’s namesake.

“A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
— The Blue Fairy

That’s definitely true of Pinocchio who has a harder time lying than most. Even in his guest appearance in Shrek 2.

3. Court Jester with Danny Kaye

One of my favorite movies growing up, Court Jester is a mix of parody, comedy, and musical with a script that is wonderfully witty and actors who deliver it with a fast-paced rhythm that will leave you giggling as you catch up. This particular quote comes from the opening credits.

“Why be gloomy – cut thy nose off to spite thy face? Listen to me: a nose is hard to replace.” — Hawkins from Court Jester

Maybe, it’s not your first reaction when you’re gloomy (I know it’s not mine), but when taken into context with the saying, it actually has a surprisingly deep meaning…

4. The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged

This quote is an example of how something small combined with parody can equal hilarity:

“A nose by any other name could still smell.”
— Adam as Juliet in The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged

Seriously, folks, if you haven’t watched it yet, what are you waiting for?

5. William Shakespeare

And just to prove that it doesn’t have to be parody to be a Shakespearian nose quote…

“O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible,
As a nose on a man’s face, or a weathercock on a steeple!”
— Speed from Two Gentleman of Verona

I like how he contrasts the ideas to change the meaning. You know, like most of us sarcastic types do.

6. M*A*S*H

As many seasons as this television show ran, there’s probably a quote in it from about any topic you can think of. The nose, however, has its own episode.

“Major, all a nose is is a nose. It takes in air, and it breaks up the space between your eyes and your mouth. It has nothing to do with a person’s value or quality. It’s there to catch a cold through or that which to look down on people from. Enjoy it! You’ve been given a good, strong, aquiline nose.” — Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce from “Operation Noselift

Dammit, Pierce! Where were you when Cyrano needed you?

7. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Not to leave out poetry, here’s a little couplet by Longfellow called “The Best Medicines.”

“Joy and Temperance and Repose
Slam the door on the doctor’s nose.”

8. Terry Pratchett

It seems appropriate to end with a bit of good advice. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “stick your nose into other people’s business/affairs.” Well, with his usual skill at surprise endings to traditional lines, Mr. Pratchett added a valuable twist:

“Don’t stick your nose where someone can pull it off and eat it.”
— Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms

Who knew a nose could be quoted from so many different angles? Even now, I feel like I’m forgetting some.

Know any great nose quotes that I missed?

If you thought, “Yes!” when you read that, please, please, share it/them because that’s kind of hilarious.

The Cleverest of All: A Fyodor Dostoyevsky Quote

fyodor dostoyevsky quote the cleverest of all

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

Once a month? I thought calling yourself a fool (or idiot) only a few times a week was doing pretty well as an adult! And that is part of being an adult, isn’t it? Admitting that you were wrong and/or that you made a mistake?

Hmmm… Can anyone think of someone who seems utterly incapable of admitting that he/she made a mistake? (One might stick out…)

The Cleverest Man (or Not)

I think there are really two possibilities here:

1. The person knows inside that he/she made a mistake but is afraid of losing face by admitting it.

OR

2. The person honestly does not (and will not) accept that he/she made a mistake.

The first one is sad but understandable. It can be embarrassing and even frightening to admit that you made a mistake – will the person I’m talking to think less of me? Will I lose out on the job or the opportunity? Will it give the other person power and put me in a weaker position?

Despite the fact that being caught in a lie almost always does more damage than admitting our mistakes, I think most of us have done this at one point or another in our lives – especially in a confrontation when winning can easily begin to feel more important than telling the truth. You know, when you’re caught up in the moment, and you’re emotionally invested in the situation.

That’s about as human as making the mistake in the first place. Of course, as adults, we all know that we should go back later (once tempers cool) and fess up, and, yes, that often happens (explicitly or implicitly). At least, it happens if we value the relationship and want it to continue…

The second possibility is much more extreme. It takes an unhealthy dose of arrogance combined with a huge ego. So… narcissism. Maybe, even a god complex. In other words, not someone most people want to be around. Picture it: “I want to hang out with that one guy that always thinks he’s right even when he’s been proven wrong repeatedly!”

Said no one ever.

So let’s consider the converse of this quote. If the cleverest man is the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month, then the dumbest man is the one who never calls himself a fool. In other words, never admits his mistake(s). Ever.

I like this quote better all the time. Don’t you?

Vocabulary Changes Everything: Communication Is a Zombie

communication is a zombie

Just like that

After you get out of high school, vocabulary isn’t really something you think about (if you ever did). Sure, you talk, read, and listen, but you don’t think about the size of your vocabulary while you do it. You know the words you know – except when you forget them (usually in the middle of a sentence in front of someone important).

That’s even true for me and my overly-analytical self. Well, it was. But recently I’ve been reminded of how vocabulary changes everything – both your vocabulary and that of the people around you.

Why Vocabulary Changes Everything

Vocabulary Is Like a Zombie’s Tendons

It’s true. Vocabulary is like a zombie’s tendons: if enough of them are missing, things start falling apart. Sure, it might keep flopping or twitching, but it’s not making connections anymore.

What? Too macabre?

Now, you’re either smirking, rolling your eyes, or going “Huh?” And all because of 1 little word: macabre. That’s what I mean by connections. If you don’t know that word, reading it didn’t help you understand that sentence at all. I might as well have put a blank there. Or a little bracket (insert some strange, French-looking word here). Either way, there’s a disconnect in understanding between too and Now that the reader basically had to jump over and make a guess about what they missed.

Ok. Back to our zombie analogy. If macabre was the only tendon that the zombie was missing, nothing’s going to fall off. Yeah, the pinky finger might be a little loose, but 1. the word wasn’t integral to the paragraph, and 2. only one word was missing. That’s not going to do too much damage to the zombie (I’m enjoying that simile a little too much).

Words work together to help us communicate by connecting ideas to sounds, symbols, and their order. The fewer words you know, and the more the understanding begins to fall apart. So if you’re trying to communicate through writing, speech, etc., knowing enough words is pretty dang important.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who’s travelled without knowing the language. You better hope the nonverbals match (just sayin’).

Why Don’t We Notice?

So back to the fact that we rarely ever think about our vocabularies (despite the fact that they’re oh-so-important). Remember how I said earlier that I’ve been reminded recently of how vocabulary changes everything? Well, here are the situations that reminded me.

  1. The $2 Word: For my friend’s birthday, a big group of people went out to celebrate – a couple of people I knew but mostly people I didn’t. I used a multi-syllable word without thinking about it (because it’s a word I know that means what I was trying to say…), and I got a “Woah, big word!” reaction. Cue thinking, “It is?… Umm, ok. Yeah, I guess.”
  2. Subtleties: I’ve been taking classes a lot lately, and I’ve had some teachers that throw in subtle inside jokes when they’re talking, which is great! I mean, it definitely makes class more entertaining – until the rest of the students are giving you weird, sideways looks because you’re laughing, and they don’t know why. The joke went right over their heads.
  3. Shakespeare: My grandpa made the mistake of telling me that he has never enjoyed Shakespeare (sob). Being me, I, of course, made him watch The Comedy of Errors. Granted, it was performed by a Vaudevillian juggling troupe, so, it’s not what you’d call a dry performance. Still, he kept saying that he didn’t have any idea what’s going on (although he enjoyed the circus tricks), and I began to realize that in the recording, some of the more vital words are slurred or glossed over (it’s an old recording). And, naturally, I began to analyze how hard or easy it would be to follow if you missed those words. You can guess the answer.

Did you notice the pattern of when vocabulary went from a background habit to an actual thought? Every single time something called it to my attention, someone else reacted either by not understanding or acting surprised (given additional emphasis to a word they didn’t expect).

See, even though we don’t think about it that way, vocabulary is very much a social creation. Growing up, we mainly get our vocabulary from the people we see most: our family and friends. We also gain vocabulary from our watching and reading habits (reading grows vocabulary the most although movies can help), and we tend to have similar taste to the people we hang out with.

What that all boils down to is that the people you see most are going to know most of the same words you do. Sure, there will be some words that don’t crossover, but there’s a lot of overlap.

That’s why we don’t notice or think about our vocabulary: if everyone understands the words everyone else uses, there’s nothing to draw our attention to them. My friends and family wouldn’t have thought twice about the word I used at my friend’s birthday dinner; however, we probably wouldn’t know some of the words those people’s friends and families use.

What’s the moral to the story?

I don’t know – I don’t write fables!

Sorry.

Zombie-wise, all I can say is that when it comes to keeping those bones together and moving, vocabulary changes everything. And thanks to mine (and some macabre imagery), you may never think of communication the same way again. (You’re welcome.)

Literacy Will Be Dead: A Margaret Atwood Quote

literacy is dead margaret atwood quote reading and writing democracy will be dead as well readers and writers

“Dunn Dunn DUNNN” seems appropriate and inappropriate at the same time…

If there are no young or old readers and writers, it’s hard to argue the statement that “literacy will be dead.” Who will teach the young readers and writers if there are no old readers and writers? But what about democracy? Not to argue with Margaret Atwood, but being able to read and write hasn’t helped democracy a lot lately in the U.S. In fact, at first glance, it’s hurt it.

But let’s think about that a little more.

Let’s say that a lot of people’s votes were influenced by Russian trolls online. Aren’t identifying credible sources, recognizing fact from fiction, and general reading comprehension all reflections of your reading ability and training? From what I’ve seen in person and online (election aside), the number of people without those skills is huge. And it’s growing.

And it’s affecting our democracy.

Hmmmm… So will improving reading and writing skills help our government? Is it too late? (Is it never too late?) Reading skills aside, is it even possible to keep people from believing random stuff posted online that they want to believe?

So is this a slippery slope argument, or does this Margaret Atwood quote have a point?