Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.
This week’s words: Background, Aposiopesis, Almost, A clean slate
Background – Roget’s thesaurus lists these alternative words: circumstance, concomitant, accompanying, distance, surroundings, rear, spectacle, knowledge, information, stage set, and ornamentation. Under the sub-heading ‘information’ are a further 103 replacements including dissemination, data base, hearsay, communication, intimation, common knowledge, factual information, material, lowdown, intelligence, leak and disinformation.
Let’s look at usage for Background:
‘When writing a factual piece, it’s always a good idea to gather as much background information as possible to support any statement.’
‘Brian was so immersed in the background to his study that he forgot the essence of the subject matter when writing his report.’
In common with many English words, this one holds multiple meanings. Here, I’ve concentrated on only one of those interpretations, but I invite you to try your hand at some of the others. It’s good exercise for developing vocabulary.
Figure of speech:
Aposiopesis: meaning to keep silent, this figure of speech, used in writing, is generally marked by an ellipsis (…). Many people think the ellipsis is the figure of speech rather than simply the punctuation mark that indicates it. This figure is used to indicate when a speaker or writer fails to complete a sentence, as though unable or unwilling to conclude it.
‘Sylvia wanted so much to explain why she’d done it, but…’
‘I demand you help me, or I may be forced to…’
Redundancies are words that serve no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.
This week’s example: ‘Almost’
‘Geoffrey described Sara as almost perfect.’
‘After an hour’s hard marching, they had almost reached their destination.’
In the first example, I’ve deliberately used ‘almost’ as a qualifier for an absolute. By that, I mean ‘perfect’ is a word without gradation of meaning. Something is either perfect or imperfect, there are no degrees of perfection. In this case, the writer might have used a more precise word: ‘Geoffrey described Sara as a “paragon”, or as “an example of excellence”.’
In the second example, ‘almost reached’ provides the reader with the idea that the marchers are a short distance from their destination. I don’t have a problem with the use of ‘almost’ in this context; it’s acceptable. However, the writer could try, ‘After an hour’s hard marching, they were close to their destination, or they were approaching their destination.’
Cliché: a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been much used and no longer has the power it once held. However, clichés usually come into being because of their original power to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate; in dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.
A clean slate; an expression meaning to start afresh, to begin with the past eradicated from the record.
‘Although George had a criminal record, his new employer was prepared to let him start with a clean slate.’
Perhaps try: ‘Although George had a criminal record, his new employer was prepared to let him begin as though his past demeanours had never occurred.’
Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.
I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.