Tuesday, 25 May 2010

What's in a word?

How awesome was Mad Libs yesterday?

Yup, I had happy times last night reading your comments (and an almost tea, nose snorting incident that I won't talk about. heehee).

If you haven't commented to win my spectacular hardcover U.K copies of both Carrie Ryan books, please do. I am drawing the winners for all of this weeks prizes on Monday 31st.

On to today.

Kids are sponges. Seriously, they are pint-sized sponges with super hearing.

Yesterday I had dinner with friend and Goddaughter. Goddaughter was doing everything possible to avoid eating her pasta.

My friend put it on her plate. Goddaughter threw it on the floor. Smiled.

Friend: *whispers to me* "Ooh, little sod."
Goddaughter: "Sod!"
Me: "Did she just say sod?"
Goddaughter: "Sod. Sod. Sod."
Me: *laughing hysterically*
Friend: "Don't make a big deal out of it, or she'll say it even more."
Me: *stifles the laugh, but chuckles on the inside*
G.daughter: *smiles*

Now sod is one of those British terms when someone is being a pain. It's technically not swearing, but it's not a word my friend wants the little one to learn. Or me really.

No matter how funny she looked while doing it.

The thing is, Goddaughter doesn't know what the word means. To us, it means something. To her 'sod' is just a word.

So I thought about words. More specifically the power of words.

We are taught what certain words mean from birth. Some words are good, some are 'naughty' and are supposed to stick with them. We say one that's bad, we get told off.

But a child developing language skills doesn't have a yardstick. To a toddler, it's just a word, waiting for the meaning to be discovered.

Just like books.

We write the words down on the page, hoping for our readers to discover their meaning. How they interpret that meaning will be different depending on what they have been taught.

To some it will be bad. To some good. To others, who knows. That's what I love about language. It's flexibility.

So in the end I am left to wonder if there is any real right or wrong within words?


Talli Roland said...

Interesting! I hadn't actually thought about a word being intrinsically right or wrong. I think we give words their meaning and kids pick up on that.

Vicki Rocho said...

tea, nose, snorting incidents are bad. Doritos, nose, and snorting don't mix either.

I think we talked about words in my cultural anthropology class once. How words could mean entirely different things in different cultures. They evolve.

Around here, sod is a chunk of dirt/grass that you use on your lawn.

Unknown said...

What an intriguing post!!! First off I must say I'm so excited to get my hands on these two books and I'm hoping to get lucky!!!

Secondly, toddlers saying naughty words is funny, it shouldn't be but naturally it is!!!

And thirdly, I am not sure there is really a right and a wrong. I would say to always go with your gut and how you feel when writing. You are your best judge and if you think the word fits and it so happens to be a naughty word then write it down. You'll always have the haters and the lovers, the important thing is to keep those who love your work and don't worry about getting the haters to even like it. Stick with your voice, it's worked with you every other time!

JE said...

I agree with Jen. There isn't really a right or wrong, you really have to do what's right for you.


Hannah said...

I think words only have the power we give them but I do believe that we sometimes have the ability to draw power into a word. It's different saying "I love you" to your shoes and saying "I love you" to a spouse or child. Because it means something to you, it means something to them.

wow, I need coffee. :D

Matthew MacNish said...

To me every word has it value. They're just words anyway. Tools with which we communicate.

Even "bad" words have their place. Life is not all good, how would we describe it all without bad words?

Stina said...

I'm with Jen. I've had words changed in my ms because the critter thought her generic word was better. For me that was the wrong word. For her it was the right one.

My first word was a swear word. I wasn't allowed to hang out with the neighbors after that. ;)

Mayowa said...

Awesome post Lindsay.

Methinks we might be helpless to change how readers interprete our words. What we can do is make sure that we choose words that describe exactly what we mean. The more precise we are, the less room for misunderstanding.

Jaydee Morgan said...

Loved this post because you make a very good point. I love playing with words, finding meaning, changing meaning and so on. We have to remember that we write the words but a reader will take from them what they will :)

Janet Johnson said...

Interesting thoughts. While words are just words, they do have their meaning in society. I think it's important to help our kids understand that. There are consequences when we use certain words. Even if it's just how someone perceives you. You may or may not care, but kids need to understand that.

In our family 'stupid' is not a good word to say (I'm the worst offender!), but for others, it's not a big deal. Everyone has to draw their own line.

Susan Fields said...

That is interesting - words only have the meaning we give to them. When my kids were little, a lot of moms treated "stupid" like a dirty word, a kid could get punished for saying it. I remember how surprised I was the first time I saw a mom scold her child for saying it, but really, used against another child, it is worse than a lot of "dirty" words.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Loved the scene with your friend and your goddaughter. Words are powerful, but you do make a good point. People put definitions and meaning to words. Makes one wonder...

Very intriguing post!

Lindsay said...

Talli. I didn't think that either until that moment. :)

Vicki. Yeah. I think people use 'sod' for the same thing here too, but somewhere the meaning got adapted and twisted to it's slang use.
But great point on how words evolve and change through different cultures. :)

Jen. Great insights. I think the whole right and wrong word thing is a bit confusing sometimes. Like you say, there will always be those who disagree.

Justine. Great point. Do what is right for you. I like that. :)

Palindrome. Lol on the coffee. I get what you mean though, words are given the power by us.

Matthew. Great insight. All words have their place. Love it.

Stina. Great point. I think you have to go with the word that's right for you. Sometimes generic is too simple.

Mayowa. Ooh yeah, I forgot about that bit. Being precise helps too. :)

Jaydee. My point exactly. Love the way you put it. :)

Janet. Great insights. It is always important to remember how others see things.

Susan. I agree. When I was little we were always told not to say people are stupid.

Kathi. I agree. Words are a really powerful tool. I think sometimes words can be more dangerous than wepons.

Bluestocking said...

I too found this to be an interesting post. So often the writing craft books and teachers stress the importance of finding the "right" word, but as you pointed out, so much of that depends on your experiences growing up. I guess that's where the whole writing/publishing-is-so-subjective thing comes from. But I do think you can at least be consistent in your word choice to make a word that might seem off to someone with different life experiences seem appropriate over the course of the book. Probably ties into the dreaded need for 'voice' that's so poorly defined by agents.