Precision of Language

If you’ve read (or watched) The Giver, you know about that dystopian community’s emphasis on precise language. Never say “I’m starving” when you simply mean that you’re hungry.

When you’re writing, precision and accuracy of language also matter. While at a conference this past week, I learned that precision could mean that you have a bunch of words that all mean pretty much the same thing, but none of those words is really accurate, in that they hit the target directly and say exactly what you wanted to say.

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In today’s culture, we have a bad habit of using euphemisms and weasel words to obscure our intent and meaning. We speak and write to make ourselves and what we’re saying look good, but the underlying truth behind what we’re speaking and writing is something totally different. It could be precise, but it’s not accurate.

Make sure you say what you mean. Making what you’re saying unclear can only lead to confusion for your reader, and your job as the writer is to make the reader’s job easier. If they have to work to figure out your true meaning, they probably aren’t going to read much more of your writing.

5 thoughts on “Precision of Language

  1. “In today’s culture, we have a bad habit of using euphemisms and weasel words to obscure our intent and meaning.” I think this has always been true (well, “always” is probably a bit imprecise).

    For example, all the euphemisms which used to be in general use for being gay, when that really was a “love that dare not speak its name.” (Which it still is in some parts of the world, of course.)

    Which is not to say that we’re being more precise now (anything but), but it’s possible that the things we’re skating around are different.

    Anyway, other than that caveat, I agree. As the reporters say, as a writer you need to tell the reader who, what, when, where, and why.

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    1. People still use the five W’s, but they twist them to get a certain point across… sadly, it’s not really about the truth anymore but someone’s biased viewpoint.

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  2. A mentor of mine would review my writing and always write in the margin things like: ”
    What are you really trying to say?” Sometimes we know so well ourselves what we mean it is hard to step outside of ourselves to understand that others may not. This is why a good editor is invaluable.

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