February 16, 2013

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

I have to write about a writing problem.  Sorry.

A few days ago I wrote:  “Then the boss guy said to the guy who’s working the counter:  ‘Dude, that sounded really contrived.’ ”  And then I added “Seriously?”

And that “Seriously?” has been bothering me ever since.  It kept coming into my mind as something that wasn’t right.  It smacked of vulgar editorializing.  It watered things down.  A few minutes ago I went back and republished that entry without the offending word.  And I feel so relieved.

Another example:  I wrote on Valentine’s Day about calling the judge dude:

So I said to him, “Another delinquent, shopping at the last minute on Valentine’s day.”

“Oh, hello,” he said, “But it’s tomorrow.”

“It’s today, isn’t it?”  I appealed to the guy behind him.  “Today is the 14th, right?”  The guy confirmed it.

The writing problem is confirmed or affirmedConfirmed is the natural word.  But affirmed carries on the joke of appealing from the judge’s wrong opinion to a higher authority. 

But I settled on confirm.  There’s nothing wrong with appeal–that’s just the language giving you a gift at the right moment, and I never refuse gifts.  And appeal is the natural word there.  But you don’t push it.

Still, I’m tempted to go back and change it.  Affirmed would be so clever.  And of course that’s exactly what’s wrong with it.

All of this is to say that a word matters.  The wrong word is terrible.  Also that I am never, never safe from my own bad taste.  I fight it off, but it’s there.