The dynamics of word fail (It doesn't matter twat you MEANT to say.)

Saturday afternoon, the Gare Bear and I were parked in front of a slow news day on MSNBC. A fresh-faced anchor woman was nattering with New York Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Rich Niptuck (or some such) about the refurbishing of presidential portraits on newly minted money. They flashed up the twenty dollar bill with a new and improved image of Andrew Jackson.

"They've filled in his temple with some injectables," said the doctor, "and they've done a really nice blow job on him."

The anchor woman uttered a strangled giggle. The plastic surgeon tried to recover, stammering something about Jackson wearing a - a smock from the - the salon, like, they blow dry hair. At a salon. And it's like that. The anchor cut him off with a brusque "yeh-yeh-yeh" and moved on with amazing self-control.

So what may we as writers extrapolate from this little moment of zen?

It doesn't matter what you meant to say. Words live in cultural context, and skilled communication depends on full understanding and deft usage of both words and meaning.

Way too many workshop hours are spent on writers explaining subtext instead of refining text. If your editor doesn't get the jokes and your critique partners are baffled by your dialogue, it doesn't matter that you laughed out loud when you wrote it or that you're crystal clear about the character's motivation. It's. Not. Working. That's what counts. You lit the fuse at the keyboard, and no puff of smoke went up from the reader's head.

Back in the day, the celebrated poet, Robert Browning, published the beautiful "Pippa Passes":
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!
But there's another line I don't remember from lit class:
Then, owls and bats,
Cowls and twats,
Monks and nuns, in a cloister’s moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!
According to literary legend, Browning later explained to editors of the Oxford Dictionary that he'd heard the T word in these lines from a poem published in the 1600s:
They talk’t of his having a Cardinal’s Hat;
They’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.
And in his naivety, Browning deduced that cardinal is to hat as nun is to...

"Wimple!" The word is "wimple", dude. Why didn't someone tell him? An editor or friend? Was everyone around him so smitten by emperor's new clothes syndrome? Doing a really nice blow job on him because he was Browning and therefore above critique or even question?

It doesn't matter. However you stumble into it, word fail is word fail. Take a look at your intention from a different perspective and try again.

Comments

Suzan Harden said…
Thanks for the laugh this morning, Joni! *sigh* I'm trying to rewrite a first chapter now because all four of my crit partners were confused. As much as I'd like to blame everyone else, the fault is solely mine. Now to figure out how to work 'twat' into the chapter, heh, heh, heh. . .
ROFL! This sort of thing makes me thank my lucky stars for eagle-eyed critique partners, editors, and my agent. I may grumble at times before getting down to work, but better that than allowing my t-word to hang out for all posterity!

Thanks for the laugh!
Anonymous said…
LOL!!

Tessy
Keena Kincaid said…
Thanks for the laugh and the quick reminder of reality. I've worked with many authors who spend as much time explaining a scene as they did writing it. I just tell that no matter how hard it is to kill our babies, sometimes we must.
TJ Bennett said…
I used to be a contract negotiator, oh so many years ago, and I had a contracting officer boss who had a sign up on his wall about this very thing:
"WHAT DO THE CONTRACT SAY???"

In other words, it doesn't matter, years later, when strangers are trying to decipher what the implications of your boneheaded error in terms was, it doesn't matter what the parties intended, it only matters what the contract says, because that is what you will be held liable for in court.

Yes, writing is just like that.

And CPs are cool because they will tell you that there is more than one implication for, say, the word "bestial," and if your mind isn't as dirty as theirs, you will likely entirely miss it. So, thanks, Colleen & Joni.

LOL!

TJB
Marilyn Brant said…
Oh, this is hilarious!! Thank you for the laugh, and thanks even more for the reminder... :)

Popular posts from this blog

Harlequin Intrigue vs. Harlequin Romantic Suspense