12 . Words That Stick
Get Wise! Mastering Writing Skills
GET STICKY (OR SPECIFIC)
Take a look at the following sentence:
There is a tree in my backyard.
Now describe that tree. Can't do it, can you? Or maybe you
guess that it's a flowering magnolia or a maple sapling, but
unless our sentence is more specific, you'll have to go out on a
limb (no pun intended!) and make something up. Maybe it'll
help if we say,
There is a weeping willow in my backyard.
That narrows it down and makes a huge difference! A word
like tree can be interpreted to mean any of several hundred
species of trees, but with the English language, you've got a
collection of tools that will let you get specific and nail down
exactly what you're trying to say.
Webster's New Third International Dictionary contains
more than 450,000 words, starting at aardvark and going straight
through to zyzzogeton. Chances are you don't know all of the
words that appear in between--and no one expects you to!
But keeping a good dictionary and thesaurus by your side
will help you replace stale and vague words with alterna-
tives that will make your writing interesting and informa-
tive. Take a look at the following sentence with nonspecific
Dishes covered with food were in the sink.
Just like the earlier tree example, the nonspecific words in
this sentence force the reader to fill in missing details, and