February 24, 2014

A Canuck in Kantuck: Language to love



Likening petals to popcorn? Brilliant. You’ve been staring at those pink flowers your whole life and yet you never realized how popcorny they are. But they are. How could you have never seen that before? In an instant, reinvention. So true. And you come away with it changed, charmed, inspired.

In trying to create similar (admittedly, inferior) similes and other tropes, it’s made me realize how creatively and accurately we use language on a daily basis. Take the expression “heart sank,” as in “Disappointed, her heart sank.”

No self-respecting writer would use this expression now — long ago, time wore off its original edges and now it’s just considered trite, if it’s noticed at all. But when you’re upset? Guess what? You can feel your heart descend with disappointment. Conversely, if you’re excited or startled, your heart feels like it jumps.

“Dive in,” that’s another one. How interesting to think we regularly say we’re going to dive into our work as if swimmers diving into an ocean. When you reexamine it, what a beautiful way to think about it.

“Tough nut to crack,” also cool. I have one character in my book who really is hard to get to know. “How can I describe this?” I thought one painful morning. Oh wait, the perfect expression already exists, one so commonplace often it’s shortened to “tough nut.”

“Naked truth,” love that one. “Paled in comparison.” “Bone chilling.” Wonderful, wonderful.

Of course, my “job” for more than a year has been to come up with new ways of describing, rather than rely on what already exists. But along the way, I’ve gotten little, pleasant breaks from the work by re-enjoying the language that surrounds us every day. And that makes sitting down each morning a little easier.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
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