Poll Results, Part 2

So we were talking about last Friday’s poll, in which most of you agreed that “good afternoon” is more formal than “good morning,” and I was saying how that means words have shades of meaning beyond their basic dictionary definitions.

“Wow,” you said, “that’s genius, Brian, genius. Have you told the Nobel committee yet? Do they give prizes for blog posts? Is there maybe an award for being obvi – ”

Listen, hypothetical reader, there’s no need to get snippy. I write these things on no coffee, at a time of day when all the windows are black with the darkness of ain’t no sun up yet.

But look, a few more things to point out here:

First, these extra shades of meaning will be different for different readers. A few readers said “good afternoon” and “good morning” sounded equally (in)formal, so if you were trying for a certain effect by using one or the other, it wouldn’t work on them. Same goes for referencing literature (not everyone will know the work you’re trying to evoke) and various other shades of meaning.

This stuff can be regional too, of course. A good friend of mine is in London right now. I understand that if he tried to take a “torch” on a “lift” with his “mate” over there, it might result in a lot less burning and jail time than if he tried it here. (Actual British people, feel free to mock my primitive understanding of y’all’s dialect.)

Another point is that you, as a writer, are not going to have all this stuff straight in your own brain either. One reason I did this poll in the first place is that I wasn’t even sure if “good afternoon” was more formal. “Is that right,” I said to myself in my cranium, “or is that another one of those things I dreamed up with my hash pipe, like bubble wrap armor, or the color magenta?” You don’t know! Some stuff you can look up (literary references being a good example) but a lot of subtle stuff, you have to just ask people, or wing it.

All of which segues nicely into my final point: don’t let it paralyze you.

Yes, everything you write (every – single – word) is positively dripping with subtle juices, and yes, people will judge you on all of them, and no, nobody will agree on what those subtleties are, and no, you won’t have a clue about half of them either. Don’t worry about it. I mean, do your best with it, try to manage the minutiae, but don’t get so caught up in it that you stop with the actual writing.

Actually, that applies to most writing rules, come to think of it.

2 responses to “Poll Results, Part 2

  1. I have thought about this a lot, actually. I use the flexibility of words a lot in songwriting. One song can mean different things to everyone that hears it just because words have so much depth.

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