A Few Little Letters Can Make All the Difference

Recently I heard a great anecdote about one little letter. Seems our pastor did a Google search as he researched the parable of the weeds. He typed in “weed” and, well, let’s just say the topic of dandelions didn’t sprout. He had to add an “s” to find the right type of weed. Don’t try this at home and definitely not on a corporate computer. I assure you I didn’t!

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were dining with industry insiders at a noisy restaurant when an author asked, “Are you taking pictures?” She wasn’t waving a phone, so I knew she wasn’t asking me to take her picture.

Umm, pictures? Did someone (wrongly) say I’m good at photography? Or (wrongly) say I’m an official conference photographer?

We finally realized she meant “pitches” instead. That made more sense. I didn’t feel so bad since my husband also thought she had asked about photography. Again, only a few little letters made all the difference.

When you write, how much effort do you put into finding just the right word or phrase? I don’t mean you need to obsess over every word, only to take care to express yourself as clearly, eloquently, and accurately as possible. A few little letters can make all the difference.

Your turn:

What tools do you use to find the best words for your work?

Are there any words you feel are misused and abused? Which ones?

What is one of the most eloquent sentences you’ve seen?

52 Responses to A Few Little Letters Can Make All the Difference

  1. Avatar
    John de Sousa August 17, 2017 at 4:27 am #

    When I’ve done what I thought is a satisfactory job on a particular piece, I re-read the first chapter of Tosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir”. If my words don’t captivate me like that chapter, I know I’ve still got work to do. Problem is, I don’t think I have yet hit the mark.

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    Melissa Ferguson August 17, 2017 at 4:48 am #

    I receive a word of the day from dictionary.com and like to collect the most interesting ones to use in my WIPs. I’d love to have a Jeeves-like character in my next manuscript so he can toss out a fun, fancy, rare word in a witty manner as if it was commonplace–and to try to be more like PG Wodehouse who had the most fascinating, often eloquent, way with words.

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    Josie Siler August 17, 2017 at 5:08 am #

    I use Rhymezone.com all the time to search for synonyms. If I don’t like a word I wrote, or feel there is something better, I just pop it in the search box and have a list of words to choose from. It’s great!

  4. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson August 17, 2017 at 5:11 am #

    Very interesting. I think people use the word “like” too often. 🙂

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    Rebekah Love Dorris August 17, 2017 at 5:19 am #

    I love the cadence of this eloquence:

    “My heart is inditing a good matter:
    I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue
    is the pen of a ready writer.”

    Psalm 45:1

  6. Avatar
    Rachel McDaniel August 17, 2017 at 5:56 am #

    Thank you for this post, Tamela. At times it may seem tedious to search for the perfect word, but I think it’s what separates a good piece of writing from a great one. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 17, 2017 at 6:06 am #

    Sometimes one letter can make all the difference:

    “She looked in the mirror as she combed her lone straight hair. She knew she was not pretty.”

    I tire of techie jargon, and, one morning, deliberately mispronouncing a bit of phone-speak, I asked Barbara, “And how are your apes today?”

    She smiled. “Looks like you’re doing great!”

  8. Avatar
    Deb Santefort August 17, 2017 at 6:14 am #

    Let’s play grammar police!

    I think the word “myself” is overused. It’s as if people think using the word “me” is not okay.

    For example:

    “Give your application to myself.”

    This makes MYSELF bonkers!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 7:32 am #

      I can see why, Deb, since that’s a misuse of the word! How about, “Give me your application.”

  9. Avatar
    Jeanine Lunsford August 17, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    First, I refer to the profile I have built describing my character’s unique personality … her wants, needs, and desires. Next, I use a thesaurus to find the word that she would use. Hopefully the word I choose will help the reader to see inside of my character in a deeper more meaningful way.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 7:33 am #

      Fabulous tip, Jeanine. That also helps the reader “hear” each character, and strengthens any book.

  10. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray August 17, 2017 at 6:27 am #

    My tendency is to attack whatever concept has captured me at the moment and let fly. Then I’ll go back over the last few paragraphs and see if they flow easily, and if they have the desired punch or impact. If not, I may reword some key phrases.

    The one that drives me nuts is the poor use of the modifier “only.” For example:

    Only I pet the kitty.
    I only pet the kitty.
    I pet only the kitty.
    I pet the only kitty.
    I pet the kitty only.

  11. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 17, 2017 at 7:15 am #

    I use the Bing search engine to check a precise definition or select a synonym. Type “definition word” in the search box, and Bing brings up the Oxford Dictionary’s definition, synonyms, antonyms, usage examples, related forms that are nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., a translation app, and the word’s origin so you can make sure that word actually was in use at the time of a historical.

    When selecting the best synonym, I click over to check the nuances of meaning if I don’t already know the word well.

    I use it during both writing and editing phases to avoid using the same word in sentences that are close to each other. It can also be helpful when varying sentence structure to avoid boring repetition.

    I’ve tried Google and Yahoo for this, and I find the Bing info is more complete and user friendly.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 7:34 am #

      Love this, Damon! Great illustration.

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 7:34 am #

        Carol, I have a love/hate thing with Bing but your advice moves it a little closer to the “love” column for me!

        • Avatar
          Carol Ashby August 17, 2017 at 8:17 am #

          I prefer Google for general search, but Bing is better for words.

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield August 20, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks, Carol! I use Google, but in addition to checking what appears first, I have a few favored dictionaries that appear that I also check. The slight differences are always interesting. This summer I saw online dictionaries in an entirely new way:

      I consulted for a client working on a doctoral thesis at a university in Australia. He is Indian and attended British schools. It was great fun to determine whether his word choices that didn’t make sense in American English were actually British usages, Aussie usages, or errors based on English not being his first language. I checked a lot of dictionaries I had never seen before!

      Now I’ll also need to try Bing.

  12. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson August 17, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    You are right, it is easy to slip up and use the wrong letters when writing. Grammarly helps with some of those errors, but not all of them. I’ve messed up and used physic when it should have been physique. Another one is clinched instead of clenched. It’s so embarrassing when I discover a misused word, especially when the manuscript has already been sent out to contests, agents, publishers. We can never be too careful.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      A couple of errors like that shouldn’t keep a manuscript from being accepted, although too many can affect an editor’s perspective. It’s always good to be careful, as you are.

  13. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore August 17, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    Great post, Tamela.

    My sister and I still laugh about a feature in our small-town newspaper many years ago. They often featured newlywed couples and described their recent weddings. One week the column heading was “Bridges and Grooms” ~ that extra “g” gave the column an entirely new meaning! 😉

    Have a blessed day! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 8:44 am #

      🙂

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray August 17, 2017 at 11:13 am #

      Oh, that’s a hoot!

      Less public, but I once sent my wife a text and referred to her as my “wide.” Oops!

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 17, 2017 at 11:38 am #

        Damon, I hear you…Barb uses a voice-translator on her phone so she can do several things at once…and she once closed a text to me as “your loving Worf”.

        I know we’re supposed to Klingon to one another in marriage, but this is ridiculous.

  14. Avatar
    Jaime August 17, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    I used to write marriage devotions on a regular basis, and the most challenging part was finding different ways to say “your spouse”! It did push me to get pretty creative, though. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 8:45 am #

      I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to “partner” as a term for “spouse” because I think of it as business partners. Or, when my parents played Rook with friends and teamed up as partners. Bridge, anyone?

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 17, 2017 at 8:45 am #

      Jaime, I write about caregiving for a terminally ill spouse, and once did come up with an unintentional alternative to that word.

      ‘Souse’.

      My wife has NEVER let me forget that.

      (Of course, if your mate’s a Liverpudlian, then you’ve got a natural…my spouse the scouse…but I digress.)

  15. Avatar
    Elena Corey August 17, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Thanks for this post; I love words. Overused and misused words make me wince. These are several that I think could use some rest:
    actually,
    just,
    you know,
    like,
    and the irreverently thrown in OMG.

    Elena Corey

  16. Avatar
    Tracey Dyck August 17, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    Reminds of me of a Mark Twain quote: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

    I refer often to a thesaurus while writing, especially because my brain tends to be a web of connections. I might not find the word I’m looking for in the thesaurus, but sometimes the list will jog my memory of related words that work better!

  17. Avatar
    Robin E. Mason August 17, 2017 at 9:38 am #

    Hullo Tamela, i am OCD about selecting just the right word. i can’t even give a greeting card if it doesn’t say what i mean to say! i use the thesaurus, or google for better definition and/or etymology, culture and setting and idioms. if i can’t find the right word in the moment, i place brackets around the [WORD] and keep going, and come back to it later.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 17, 2017 at 11:19 am #

      I pity you trying to find the right greeting card. My oldest used to call my mother “Nana” and we had to send the same card for five years because it was always the only “Nana” card.

      The placeholder is a great idea. Better that than to impede progress on the plot!

  18. Avatar
    CJ Myerly August 17, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    Finding the right word can be so tough. I always joke that I have missing word syndrome. I’ll be in the middle of talking and i’ll know exactly what word I want, but I can’t find it. I do it less when I write, but sometimes it happens. I spend time on onelook.com in the related words.

    When I’m trying to find the right words, I take the sentence or paragraph into a separate document and I play with it. For some reason, a clean page makes all the difference.

  19. Avatar
    Marie Wells Coutu August 17, 2017 at 11:56 am #

    Tamela, this is a great post. And some of the comments made me laugh out loud. I love wordplays, and when they’re unintentional, they’re even funnier. But your post brought to mind some good advice I got from a former boss: “Don’t write to be understood; write so as not to be misunderstood.” I used to keep that over my desk. Often we think we are being clear when we’re not, so making sure we are not misunderstood ensures clear writing.

  20. Avatar
    Susan Wingate August 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    I like to read novels and other authors. I find it incredibly educational and helpful with my own vocabulary to read other authors’ works.

  21. Avatar
    Karen Meyer August 18, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    I use the “tools” of the Word menu bar, under that is “thesaurus”. That gives me a whole list of alternate words. Sometimes I’ll put one of them in that’s not exactly right, then use it to search for another.

  22. Avatar
    Ann L. Coker August 18, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    I recently read: “There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is my first read for Hurston. The library in Terre Haute, IN, gave tribute to her and offered this book free.

  23. Avatar
    Rosemarie Malroy November 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

    I thought your blog was going to be about written letters, emailing short emails to agents to thank them, etc. Some of us are pretty dumb. Good blog.

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