Words should matter – not only to writers

Words influence how we think and what we do. For us writers, words are obviously the tools of our trade, but other people use them all the time too. It is easy to forget how important they are and how we could use them better. Some editors have strong views on what words we should use, which I wrote about once before.

What has this got to do with Mahjong?

I have been trying to learn to play Mahjong and have been playing an online solitaire version to get me started. My first problem was learning to identify the different images. It wasn’t like learning anew card game, where the suits and values are pretty obvious – to me anyway. Some were easy: spots, sticks, flowers. Others I found hard to relate to. I found myself trying to make pairs by simply looking at one image and trying to find another similar. This has become much easier since I have given everything a name. These are just silly names I made up to remind me what I’m looking for, such as: people in a boat, a heated rear window, a Rolls Royce sign, a trestle table, a roof. I have surprised myself by how effective this has been.

I must use words better

The use of words in this way has reminded me of how powerful they are, as if giving something a name gave me a certain power over it.  I need to think more carefully about all the words I use in my books. Do I dumb down or risk going over people’s heads? Do I create the right atmosphere? Does my humour come across?

A quill pen. Words have been powerful throughout the ages.

A quill pen. Words have been powerful throughout the ages.

How do you use words?

This reminds me of the different ways we tend to think of people when we give them nicknames. If we use derogatory names, we begin dehumanising people. Soldiers give the enemy nicknames, because they prefer to think they are killing something other than a person., just one of ‘them’. The we say things can hurt people or they can amuse or do good. There are good and bad habits in speech as in writing and in everything we do. We need to get used to using better words.