The #Write #Word? Post 21

great minds
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Struggling to find the ‘right’ word for your writing? Me,too. Maybe, in trying to improve my own work, I can help other writers.

Today’s words: Great Minds Think Alike…, Nod the head, Not in my backyard, Nodus Tollens, Nondescript,

A slightly different approach this week: we don’t want this to be too predictable, after all.

The phrase ‘Great minds think aloud’, often used as a standalone expression, is part of a longer quote that has two slightly different endings; ‘small minds rarely differ’, and ‘fools seldom differ’, which mean the same thing.

This expression came up in conversation with my wife, Valerie, as we were walking the forest earlier this week. We often come to the same conclusions on witnessing an event, and sometimes, as on this occasion, we say the same thing in response. Our coincidental utterance started a short discussion that illustrates the how it’s possible to perceive words and phrases differently.

Both acknowledged the full quote, and I was interested to learn from Valerie how she’d always seen the second part as a derogatory comment on the first; a sarcastic slant on those who believe they have ‘great minds’ but whose commonality of thought suggests otherwise. And I made the point that ‘great minds’ are better characterised by their habit of thinking entirely differently from others, rendering the first part of the quote inaccurate. We agreed that the second part of the quote was right: foolish people do often think the same thing, which, of course, could mean we’re both fools!

So, irony, subtle differences, and food for thought in a simple expression used frequently. What’s your take on this one?

Redundancies: words serving no purpose. In speech, they’re spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing they slow the reader’s progress.

Nod the head: whilst it’s poetically possible for trees and other items to ‘nod’, I can’t think of another part of the anatomy that nods. So, a sentence using this expression is committing the heinous crime of redundancy. A simple ‘nod’ will do it, and we can take ‘the head’ as read.

Cliché: a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s so overused it no longer holds power. However, clichés come into being as the result of their original and effective ability to describe a situation or quality in apposite terms. Their use should be sparing: in dialogue, they’re fine, providing the speaker would use them. They are words or expressions we’ve all encountered more times than…Here, I could use a cliché to illustrate what a cliché might be.

Not in my backyard: way back in the mists of time (actually, the 1980s) the acronym ‘Nimby’ appeared. It meant ‘Not in my back yard’ and was an expression pertaining to the habit of encouraging change but protesting should that change be seen to threaten the environs of the protestor. ‘Nimbies’ were people who didn’t want ‘that’ to happen in their location.

‘Michael was a constant voice in many protest movements, expressing outrage and scorn when he discovered others complaining about changes proposed in their home regions. But, when such alterations were suggested for his own location, he often retorted, “not in my back yard!”.’

We could express this differently to avoid the cliché. ‘Michael constantly expressed outrage and scorn when he discovered others complaining about changes proposed near their homes. But, when such alterations were suggested for his own location, he was vocal in his objections.’

Untranslatable emotions: The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. Most people know ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.

Nodus Tollens: something many of us feel these days, I suspect; the realization that the story of your life makes no sense to you anymore, that it’s a tangle of events that seem not to belong with each other.

And, my own, sometimes humorous, sometimes metaphorical, definition of some common words for your entertainment, which I’ll list under The Delusional Dictionary.

Nondescript: any of a number of individuals without talent who’ve gained celebrity simply for being who they are; celebrities without worth; nincompoops who’ve fallen for their own publicity and mistake the laughter of the world at them for laughter with them.

Language learners might find this link useful for pronunciation, and you’ll find a great group page on Facebook via this link.

I contribute a monthly column to an online magazine, Pandora’s Box Gazette, where I also deal with the use of words. To see the most recent, please click this link.

Your observations and suggestions are welcome in the comments section below. And, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to share it with your friends. Thank you.


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