Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weak languages

So I'm going to write about writing today, particularly about weak, pathetic words (pathetic is much too strong is not?) that are widely and repeatedly utilised in writing. Probably due to habit and complacency. This was in part, inspired by one of Jeff Goins' blogpost recommended in the newsletter I signed up for. Jeff stated a list of 'weak words' that could diminish the strength of our writing, including words such as 'very', 'things', 'stuff' and etc...Can 'etc' be considered as two weak words? I too might have been writing in a careless, yawn-inducing manner before, but now...I am positively anxious about typing the next sentence. Oh, the horror. You can refer to his list here.

However, his post brought to mind my high school English teacher who taught me in my final year. Looking back to those good old schooling days, writing was mostly 'occupational', and frankly somewhat akin to an apprentice's feeble attempts to impress and hopefully, to score points off his/her master. Well, for some of us that is. What can I say? We were almost constantly racing against the clock.

One memorable afternoon, my then-English-teacher strolled into the classroom with a stack of our exam papers. Silence ensued, necks craned and arched as though it would enable a glimpse of the grades in circles and red. The tension in the air was tangible, possibly due to the approaching Malaysian Certification of Education or SPM exams (equivalent to O-levels). But that's not the worst part.

My teacher was rather displeased with that term's paper. She started by distributing papers that were considerably less offensive to her grammatically-conscious eyes. Then she came to several sheets with marked edges, while I fidgeted in my seat. My friend's formal-writing was criticized for its flowery tone, and she received her paper with a poker face. Then, my teacher read one paragraph from the last sheet in a single breath. Apparently, three lines of texts with no comma in the middle is not ok. I raised my hand slowly and take full credit for that sentence. It was the last paper of her deck, thankfully - I felt fizzled out already.

She then addressed all of us and our poor choice of wording, particular with the use of one word: 'nice'. She criticized that the use of 'nice' is lazy and vague. 'The dress is really nice'. 'She have nice hair'. 'He owned a really nice car'. As she quoted what most of us did for that test, I realised that some of our writing must have been rather foolish, and even ridiculous from her point of view.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have just described one of those embarrassing moments in my life. To this day I remember her lecture explicitly, and I have not used 'nice' unless I was being vague intentionally. But there's a silver lining to that incident: I learned that vagueness is not acceptable in writings. Mostly. I have come across instances where wording can be too strong. But that's for another time.

And this is day two of #my500words!

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