Skip to content

Write On! Endangered Species!

Encouragement, Coaching and Prompts for Writers


A monthly blog by Eve West Bessier, Poet Laureate of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico

I am amused but also a bit pained by the reasons given for a PG rating on films. Here are a few I’ve noticed. “Some language.” What language exactly? Hindi? French? “Brief language.” Do they mean Fruit of the Loom boxers? “Mild language.” Why does that warrant a PG rating? What exactly is that, an ad for camomile tea? “Strong language” is perhaps the most ironic, since the type of language it refers to is actually exceedingly weak language that has lost all meaning and impact. You know what the (bleep) I mean? No, actually, I don’t.

I’ve never seen a film rating for “rich language,” maybe because not much of it still exists. Texting, tweeting and the use of emojis have all contributed to draining the depth and richness from our personal communications. Just read correspondence from the late 1800s and you will be amazed by the eloquence of what was then considered everyday language. Today, rich language is an endangered species.

I’m not advocating that we all strive to sound like Ralph Waldo Emerson, though I personally wouldn’t object, but replacing worn out words with more vibrant ones will go a long way to enriching our language choices.

Finding those more potent words takes intention, attention and time and in our culture we want things now. We like convenience, but convenience leads to the extinction of all kinds of things. Natural resources, a clean and healthy environment, marginalized wild animals and plants, and I’m now adding rich language to the list.

I’m proposing that we, as concerned writers, invest ourselves in the preservation of the endangered species of rich language. We can do this by being more sophisticated about our word choices, using more variety and creating a more epicurean flavor of meaning.

Doing this is a challenge. Communications in our social environment are predominantly acronyms (like LOL and OMG), clever symbols ( : that replace words all together, or graphic emojis like the smiley face made popular in the 1970s, or the cutzie graphics available at the touch of a finger. Maybe images are replacing words, which could be fitting as the first words were glyphs and in many languages still are pictorial. I’m a photographer, so I do love images, but I also love words and I’d hate to see them become extinct.

I completely understand why we are abbreviating our language. It’s a lot easier to text on your smart phone in the few moments available as we juggle school, work, friendships and family. Feeling spunky? Just send a cartoon puppy wagging its tail. Who has time to read a philosophical treatise on twitter anyway and who can write one in fewer than a 140 characters?

Still, we are writers, so when we are not on the phone, let’s actually write. Let’s renew our dedication to keeping rich language alive.

Here’s one simple way to do this. Use the time-tested tool of the thesaurus which is not yet extinct, unlike its linguistically similar buddies the brontosaurus and the stegosaurus. Grab your copy from the bookcase or use an online version, of which there are a plethora. It may seem old-fashioned but it’s a valuable tool to remind us that there are always stronger word choices than the clichéd ones which tend to pop into our heads first. After you’ve written a draft, go back and look at your word choices. Are you using overused words? Do your word choices skirt the surface of meaning rather than delving deeper?

Using tools like a dictionary, a thesaurus (or a blog for writers!) doesn’t make you less intelligent. It makes you more intelligent. In fact, behavioral science gauges intelligence in animals on whether or not they use tools! So, no need to feel embarrassed about using them.

Building a phrase that expresses your exact meaning requires commitment to rich language. That doesn’t mean replacing overused words with randomly chosen obscure ones. That would make our writing sound like the Graduate Record Exam! Richness does not come from being more obscure or from using more syllables per word. It comes from being clear about what it is we mean to say and then going beyond the expired words at the front of the shelf and reaching into the rear to find the freshest ones.

Here’s an exercise. Create a list of five to ten words which you personally consider to be on the endangered species list of rich language. Use all of the words on your list in a single poem or short prose piece. Make a pact with yourself to use the words on your list more frequently on a regular basis. Repeat this exercise every couple of months and you will be doing your part to help preserve rich language.


Scroll down to About The Author for more information and check out Eve’s website at: www.jazzpoeteve.com.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

Eve West Bessier

Eve is a poet laureate emerita of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico; and of Davis and Yolo County, California. She has served on the steering committee for the Southwest Word Fiesta, and was a presenter during two festivals. Eve is a retired social scientist, voice and life coach. She is a writer, jazz vocalist, photographer and nature enthusiast living in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
TOSC-ANIMATION2
Enriching Life Through Learning in Community

We respectfully acknowledge that the entirety of southwestern New Mexico is the traditional territory, since time immemorial, of the Chis-Nde, also known as the people of the Chiricahua Apache Nation. The Chiricahua Apache Nation is recognized as a sovereign Native Nation by the United States in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Friendship of 1 July 1852 (10 Stat. 979) (Treaty of Santa Fe ratified 23 March 1853 and proclaimed by President Franklin Pierce 25 March 1853).

Related Articles

Mimbres Press Logo Large

Mimbres Press of Western New Mexico University is a traditional academic press that welcomes agented and unagented submissions in the following genres: literary fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, memoir, poetry, children’s books, historical fiction, and academic books. We are particularly interested in academic work and commercial work with a strong social message, including but not limited to works of history, reportage, biography, anthropology, culture, human rights, and the natural world. We will also consider selective works of national and global significance.