Occasionally, I come across a comment from a reader who states that I have used a word or a phrase that they have only heard used by their families.

I treasure these comments.

My grandmother — Nana — taught English for about a squillion years. She taught her daughter, who went on to get a degree in English.

My father, the proud son of Highlanders, loved language. Any tutors hired by my parents had to be well-spoken.

Most of which seems to have passed down to me.

Writing is exactly like painting. Where a painter uses paint to create the image of something on canvas, a writer uses words to create the image of something on the readers imagination.

How boring a world it would be if painters were limited to the three primary colours!

In the same vein, I refuse to paint word pictures using vocabulary limited to only Lowest Common Denominator language.

So, as I have gone through life, I have collected words from books, from conversations, from correspondence, and from anywhere else that words may be found.

Just as there are some scenes which require a dab of burnt umber — and brown simply will not do — there are some paragraphs which require ‘bushwa’ or ‘ye gods and little fishies’ — any other word or phrase simply will not do.

It is pleasing to me that I have Gentle Readers who seem to enjoy the language as much as I do, and I thank you for it.


Weekend reading
The map is not the terrain.

24 thoughts on “Words”

  1. I’ve been told that we Americans don’t actually speak English. Everyone else does but we get by with redundancies, clichés, contradictions, non sequiter’s, and suchlike which we call American English.

    We say a lot more with a few well-chosen metaphores than others with their adjectives.

    How’s Nana doing nowadays? Isn’t she about due for a trip to the French Quarter or something?

    Lotsa Love to her.

  2. In that vein, I had a term paper reviewed by a classmate today. I’m not so sure if her parents would be ashamed of her reply, “You use alot of big words.”

    Bugger them all. I actually make an effort to use a precise word to describe an idea or feeling; if my fellow students are unwilling to expand their horizons and break out the dictionary once in a while, I’ll continue to mutter sweet nothings under my breath about “pearls before swine.” I blame their parents.

    Mommies and daddies nationwide must be so proud to be blowing fortunes on children unwilling to do anything except squeak by on the bare minimum in college.

  3. Mr LawDog, Yo.

    You have an uncanny ability to paint with the written word. You are easy in your language, no complicated words, no tedious phrasing, no distractions from the flow of the images you are projecting.

    The purpose of language is to communicate information to others. The English language is particularly adapted to this function because you can fubricate words never before seen and readers will know what you mean.

    Rock On!

    Greg (no not the prodigy) Smith

    ps. I randomly found your blog today after having last read one of your stories several years ago. It was a pleasure to find you still live & kickin’

  4. “Writing is exactly like painting. Where a painter uses paint TO create the image of something on canvas, a writer uses words to create the image of something on the readers imagination.”

    I can only assume you meant TO not ON 🙂 It’s wonderful to read your entries because of your command of the English language.


    So much for my mastery of the English language.


    Corrected. Thank you for finding that.

  6. Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” I think y’all are kindred spirits.


  7. ‘Dog, I’ve enjoyed your use of the language. But I’ve a feeling you would never use the word “nadatorium”. I mean, who the hell says “nadatorium”?


  8. Anyone else here familiar with the use of the term “davenport” for couch/sofa? My paternal grandma (God rest her) did.

  9. oldsmoblogger,
    your grandmother and my great Aunt FayeBelle must have been of the same generation. She also used the term “davenport” for a couch or sofa. Did her house have a breezeway? Aunt FayeBelle’s did. And my GreatGrandparents and Grandparents had a “smokehouse” in the backyard. My Mother was fond of a colorful expression she learned at her Greatgrandfather’s knee: “Jaysus, Marry and Joseph!” It had to be pronounced just that way, to retain the flavor of the old country.

  10. LawDog, you are a true storyteller…a troubador in the old tradition. Your command of the language and your prose is one of the things that makes your blog so pleasurable to read. A good friend first turned me on to your writing, and I have been hooked ever since.

    If there ever comes a day when you’d consider publishing a compendium of your stories – The Collected Musings of the LawDog – let me know. I know a publisher who would love your work.

  11. Lawdog, Here are two quotes by two of my favorite authors, about each other.

    “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
    – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

    “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
    – Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

  12. If we Americans don’t speak English then neither do the British or Australians. If Ardman’s Curse of the Were Rabbit and my trip to Perth are any indication, the Brits and Aussies abbreviate damn-near everything. ‘Veg’ for vegetable, ‘Rotto’ for Rat Island, etc.

    Mark, my last high school had a Natatorium, and I swam in it for my Lifesaving gym class… Yes, we *did* call it the Nat, no one ever called it ‘the indoor pool’….

    I have read far too much P.G. Wodehouse, Kipling, and Terry Pratchett to really even see Lawdog’s dialect, and I was told I used too many big words in a speech class as well….

    Bibilophiles of the world, unite!

  13. I often cringe at the poor writing quality to be found on public display on the internet, and despair at the low level of competency demanded by our schools. There are blogs that I would otherwise enjoy reading were it not for the abysmal writing, and so I don’t waste my time on them. This, thankfully, is not one of them. LawDog, as a humble reader, I thank you for your effort and craftsmanship. Yours is one of the few blogs I check daily.

  14. I agree with Rick T… read a lot of Pratchett, Wodehouse, and many other writers with a highly distinct use of language, and to me it adds a LOT.

    At one time I was good enough with Spanish to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez untranslated. Then later I read the translated version.

    The translated version was better. Know why? More words, more precise ones!

    Many anthropologists believe the human ability to form abstract concepts began as language gave us the ability to communicate concrete ones in symbolic ways. If so, then the bigger your vocabulary, the better exercised your thinkin’ bits, says I!

  15. And that, in a nutshell, is why I go to your blog every day. So very many people these days couldn’t express their way out of a paper bag, much less engage the imagination. Thank you.

  16. A blank page or screen is a canvas, and a pen or keyboard is a brush.

    Sometimes you use exact language for exact descriptions, and sometimes you get to use a literary form of cubism.

    LawDog, you are a very amusing, readable, and intelligent writer. Even if I don’t know the exact meaning of “bushwa,” your context makes it more than clear (how many words can you mate to “codswallop” anyway?).

  17. My apologies to “Natatorium” sayers everywhere. It just seems like a word John Kerry would use…

    Besides, IT’S A FREAKING SWIMMING POOL! Ahem, sorry…

    Back to the topic, LawDog you are able to stir folks both to laughter and contemplation with your writing. I admire that, and wish I had the same skill.

  18. Davenport, Chesterfield, Sofa, Couch…

    Believe it or not, these are distinctive variations of the same basic thing … at least to some professional furniture people.

    I used to know which was which, but I guess it was too trivial even for me.

  19. Dammit!!! I wanted to be the first to make a Terry Pratchett/Discworld reference!!

    He does things with words that I can only dream of…

  20. Sorry, ‘anonymous’. It is NOT ‘just a freaking swimming pool’.

    It is an indoor pool.

    In December in Eastern Pennsylvania there is a big difference when you try and go for a swim in the ‘pool’ (outdoors, and drained for the winter) and to the ‘nat’ (indoors and heated)…..

    English has all the words it does so we can precisely describe a concept (if we choose to), and Lawdog chooses to use his vocabulary.

  21. rick t, lighten up a little. My posts were tongue-in-cheek. I am not criticizing people who have a wide vocabulary.


  22. My husband received, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie as a gift for Christmas. He pulled it out and started reading it last evening. He made the comment that the book had a certain quality in the writing that is found lacking in so much of today’s literature. I do believe that a lot of what is missing in today’s literature, speaking, dress, music, etc. is class and style. We have succeeded in muddying the cultural waters of our society.

    As a result, we have people from the ghetto who are lacking in class making millions of dollars playing a game or performing music. They can try to dress the part of an upper-class citizen, but without proper values and training, their roots still show through.

    Hence, my heroes and role models are not the people who can make a great basket, take steroids so they can hit a ball further, or whose every other word in a “song” is a very foul swear word. (c)Rap will never be considered music in my mind. I also will not encourage children to emulate the latest sports figure, either, unless that person has a stellar character and good values.

    LD, thank you for your classy and stylistic prose. You are a joy to read.

  23. I just found you through the link from Ursula Vernon's "Morally ambiguous Honey Badgers" exchange, and have been working my way from 2006 forward.
    I have been snickering, guffawing, grinning, chortling, and once in a while rolling my eyes at your posts. Some have been prophetic, more or less, others… well, in 2014, your "I don't expect Barrak Obama to be elected" is pretty funny.
    But this particular post… Yes. Vocabulary, and how to use it.
    Raid your used book store or library, people, and find the books of Thorne Smith. Richly, lavishly, gloriously guilty of conspicuous consumption of language. Phrasing that gives you such word pictures of his characters, in their absurd lives that… while at least two of his books inspired movies, the screen images are insipid when held alongside the riotous jungles of fabulous mind canvas that he invokes.
    Your invective brings that to mind at times, as do some of the descriptions of things like the Santa-with-a-Sheltie or the Pink Gorilla Suit.
    Pray continue, wordsmith.

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