Choosing Your Words Wisely, Part 2

Here are some of my all-time favorite jokes:

  • To get to the other side.
  • Hugh and only Hugh can stamp out florist friars.
  • Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids!
  • Oh, my baking yak!
  • Minnie was called, but Chew was frozen.
  • I better run this through again!
  • Give me a couple of eggs.
  • Place one of these on every corner and wait for my signal!

After all these years, those jokes still make me laugh.

What? Didn’t get the story behind the punch line?

Now you know how some readers feel when they read Christian books filled with “spiritual-speak” containing favorite words and phrases Christians use. The author assumed everyone knows what is meant when they may or may not know about what you are writing.

It’s how Christians keep our book readership lean.

There are Christian words or phrases, which only committed believers know:

Original Sin
Sanctification
Redeem (not involving a certificate or coupon)
Ransomed
Blood of the Lamb
Positional
Transfiguration
Arminian
Calvinist
Baptistery
Salvation
Grace
Unwashed
O’ (used in a myriad of contexts)

And potentially hundreds more

You can pray out loud in public using Christian mystery-words and the unbelieving or unaware person who might be listening will only recognize a few…like “the” and “Amen,” when they know you are finished.

The same principle applies to old words not in common use today. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t take 17th Century English vocabulary in school so my tendency is not to use words like hast, thou, thy, thee, ye, shalt, thine and spake too often in my daily conversations.

But if I want to appear super-spiritual to someone, I might use all in a single prayer. I can become a member of King James Court in no time at all.  (I’ve never used the word, “chasten” in a prayer, but I heard it used recently and needed to look it up afterward. Thank you Google.)

Language can either bring people together or drive them apart. Christian writers can choose words or phrases which either expand or limit the potential readership of the their books. Assuming readers know the meaning and back-story of every word can be self-limiting.

Certainly there is a place for “insider” communication between believers, but Christian authors who desire to write to a broader Christian audience or to unbelievers need to watch their words carefully. Inadvertently you might be speaking another language.

In scripture where God interacted with people, he used words and phrases, which were anything but complicated:

“Adam, where are you?”

“Moses, take off your shoes.”

“This is my son. I am pleased with him.”

“Who touched me?”

“Who do you say I am?”

“Whose image is on the coin?”

“Will you give me a drink?”

“Your sins are forgiven.”

“Go and sin no more.”

“I will give you rest.”

“Lazarus, come out.”

“Follow me.”

There’s a story behind every one of the above phrases, both interesting and compelling.  But God still used simple and powerful words, not flowery words.

Even the sermons of Jesus are pretty simple. They contained plain and powerful words. Nothing too complicated, but certainly strong enough to make another think about and remember them.

Any one, who ever wrote something on behalf of another or represented someone else in their work, knows you first spend a lot of time to understand the “voice” of the other person, which is how they uniquely communicate. Speechwriters for other people have a knack for this. It’s the speaker’s voice, which comes through, not the speechwriter’s voice.

Christian authors are somewhat like speechwriters or co-authors with God. The best ones don’t let their words get in the way of his.

Attempting to be too literary or complex as a creative writer can often hide the message. Don’t assume everyone knows the story behind complex words.

Something to ponder.

25 Responses to Choosing Your Words Wisely, Part 2

  1. Avatar
    Karen Porter May 2, 2017 at 5:05 am #

    Brilliant Dan. This blog post may become required reading for all our authors.
    Thank you.

  2. Avatar
    Edward Lane May 2, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    Thanks, Dan. It’s easy to forget that if we are trying to reach non-believers we will fail if we clothe our language in religious terms which the average lay person doesn’t comprehend.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 2, 2017 at 6:14 am #

    Aye, Dan, ’tis a fell deed not to pay meet obeisance to changes in the common tongue.

  4. Avatar
    L K Simonds May 2, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    Excellent post! Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    Joey Rudder May 2, 2017 at 7:27 am #

    What a fantastic post! Thank you, Dan.

  6. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 2, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    And then there’s slang…

    Wizard, Dan…I just stopped in for a shufti, cheroot in hand, to see if I could get buckshee advice from the lit-wallah, and you delivered the pukka gen!

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow May 2, 2017 at 7:45 am #

      Google translate didn’t work on that….

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 2, 2017 at 7:49 am #

        Translation:

        Great work, Dan…I just stopped in for a quick look to see if I could get some free advice from the agent, and your words were both excellent and true.

        (‘lit-wallah’ would be contextual, since ‘wallah’ is someone associated with a profession or business…for example, a preacher is a God-wallah.)

  7. Avatar
    Peggy Booher May 2, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    Dan,

    I keep a list on my computer of words, that when used in a Christian context, have completely different connotations for the non-believer. Some words are as simple as “lost”. The non-believer would probably think of someone being “lost” in the woods. To believers the word refers to being “lost” in sin. My list is a reminder to me that I need to be aware of those kinds of differences when I write.

    Your list added some more words to mine.

    When I first started reading the Bible, I had a KJV. The word order was confusing at times. For instance, when a verse referred to “he”, did it mean God or man? The meaning changes depending on who it referred to. I am glad for the newer translations which make it clearer.

  8. Avatar
    Renee Garrick May 2, 2017 at 8:18 am #

    Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (my paraphrase). That statement in itself should tell us to keep it simple. I’ve always been put off by those who use too many “50-cent words”–the ones I need to note and look up in the dictionary later. In conversation, we risk looking foolish when asking someone to define words. In writing, we risk losing readers for the same reason–point taken. Thanks for this tidbit!

  9. Avatar
    Glenda May 2, 2017 at 8:46 am #

    Thanks for the many ponderings to follow! 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Carol Ashby May 2, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Dan, should I be worried that I know the jokes that lead to some of those punchlines?

    This post is spot on about choosing words someone can understand without being trained in Christian vocabulary. It’s even more important when we talk with someone face-to-face about our faith.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow May 2, 2017 at 9:23 am #

      Worried? Nah. I picked appropriate jokes that will cause no more than rolling of eyes…love those shaggy dog stories.

      On second thought, if your sense of humor is the same as mine, maybe there might be cause to worry.

      Let me ponder this…

  11. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 2, 2017 at 9:28 am #

    Dan, thank you for those simple words of wisdom. I often ask my students what the word “explicate” means. They never know. Ever. I explain that it means to “explain thoroughly” so they should just say “explain thoroughly,” rather than trying to fancy things up with words no one understands. The same thing applies to Christian-talk!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby May 2, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      Oh, Sheri! You just violated the “no adverb” dictum of modern fiction. Never use an adverb when a single obscure verb will suffice.

  12. Avatar
    Steve Laube May 2, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    Such fulsome discourse is perfidious to our verisimilitude.

  13. Avatar
    Dan Story May 2, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Great Advice, Dan! I actually included the same suggestion, with a list of words to avoid and suggested alternatives, in my book, ENGAGING THE CLOSED MINDED; PRESENTING YOU FAITH TO THE CONFIRMED UNBELIEVER (Kregel, 1999). By the way, the book has been sold out and out of print for around two years. If you are interested in looking at it, please let me know. (You probably never received a query this way before–just popped in my head after reading your blog!)

  14. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks May 2, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Wise

  15. Avatar
    Henry Styron May 2, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    Are you going to tell the jokes in another blog post? If not, I may have to Google some of the punchlines. Because otherwise that’s going to drive me up a tree.

    (Oh, and yes, good points to ponder. I was going to cleverly come up with some obfuscating verbiage, but Steve and Andrew beat me to it.)

  16. Avatar
    Jerilyn Tyner May 3, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

    Point taken! I Thankest thou for the reminder.

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