by Barbara McNichol
When it comes to word choices and deciding what to use in your writing, check out these phrases from a book I’m editing:
. . . the answers that so-called geniuses like/such as Newton seem to embody.
. . . centuries of innovations like/such as the airplane and the space shuttle have resulted.
Here’s why such as is preferred instead of like in these phrases: The word “like” implies comparison while “such as” implies inclusion. Thus, being like something doesn’t include the thing itself. If the sentence was “they’re like a fish trying to swim upstream,” then it’s a clear comparison.
Let’s examine this more closely. In the first phrase, the author does include Newton as a so-called genius, so “such as” is the better choice. Similarly, in the second phrase, the airplane and space shuttle are examples of innovations, so they’re meant to be included.
Do you see how your intended meaning within the context of your writing helps you choose which word to use?
Your challenge: When you’re about to write “like,” ask this question: Would I include this point in a list or exclude it? That’s your clue on selecting “like” (exclude) or “such as” (include).
Need help determining which word to choose? Ask a question with your example in this blog.
Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. Pinocchio was a wooden puppet who wanted to become a real boy. Despite the efforts of his trusty conscience, The Talking Cricket, he kept lying and wasn’t conscious of his actions.
Much like The Talking Cricket, let this week’s Word Tripper be your guide to the difference between conscious and conscience.
Image Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinocchio#/media/File:Pinocchio.jpg & http://www.florencewithguide.com/blog/happy-birthday-pinocchio/
Conscience, conscious – “Conscience,” a noun, is part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions being morally right or wrong. “Conscious,” an adjective, describes being awake and able to understand what’s happening around you (a fact or feeling).
“I was highly conscious of my inability to pocket the wad of twenty-dollar bills I’d found. I knew my conscience wouldn’t allow me to keep this money.” – Bobbie Bookhout
Things break down. Muscles atrophy from lack of use, cars won’t start from lack of maintenance, and houses get messy due to lack of cleaning. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you plan and the entropy of everyday living can take its toll on a person’s body and mind.
Here’s help in making sure your lexicon doesn’t break down. This week’s Word Tripper highlights the differences between atrophy and entropy.
Image Sources: http://www.hughston.com/hha/a_14_2_3.htm & http://socratic.org/questions/can-you-give-an-example-of-a-system-with-high-entropy-and-one-with-low-entropy
Atrophy, entropy – “Atrophy,” a noun and a verb, refers to a gradual loss or wasting away physically or psychologically. It can also refer to poor development. “Entropy,” a noun, is the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. In a technical sense, it’s the gradual breakdown of energy and matter. In casual usage, entropy refers to the disintegration or disorganization of any situation.
“The teenager’s muscles started to atrophy from lying in bed too long. His room, scattered with clothes, shoes, and books, showed a degree of entropy from being neglected.”
by Barbara McNichol
Much of the spoken language slides into our writing, but at times the words we say aren’t the exact fit for what we mean. Check your intention every time!
Consider these sentences from a manuscript about education:
- How many principals do what they feel will win approval?
- The public feels certain people shouldn’t be teaching.
Given the context, is “feel” the correct word to express the author’s meaning? No, because the essence of the intended meaning doesn’t come from an emotional “feeling” source. Rather, it comes from a profound conviction based on experience—a place of belief.
Replace “feeling” with the word “believe,” which involves caring about something. It implies a deeper kind of thinking—a mental activity that doesn’t necessarily have a sense of conviction. Because of this distinction, the better word choices would be:
- How many principals do what they believe will win approval?
- The public believes certain people shouldn’t be teaching.
Your challenge: Question yourself when you select a commonly spoken word. Does it express the exact meaning based on its context? From now on, designate “feel” a red-flag word. Then replace it with “think” or “believe” or “hope” or another verb and reread your sentence. Is “feel” the most precise word to convey your intended meaning? If not, pause and find exactly the right one.
Unsure which of these verbs—feel, think, believe—to use in your own writing? For feedback on your sentence(s), request it here.
Every practice has its tricks of the trade. In this week’s Word Tripper, the trick to knowing the difference between the homonym “breach” and “breech” is this: ”Breach,” meaning to open by force or break an agreement, is spelled with an “ea” like the word “break” itself.
If writing is part of your trade, use this trick to differentiate between these two words both in meaning and spelling. Happy Word Tripping!
Image Source: https://divingphysiology.wordpress.com/tricks-of-the-trade/
Breach, breech – As a noun, “breach” is a failure to do what’s required or promised; a break in friendly relations between people or groups; a hole or opening in something created by force. As a verb, it means to fail to do what’s required or promised; to force an opening or break an agreement. “Breech,” a noun, refers to the hind end of something. For example, a breech birth occurs when an infant’s bottom comes out first during delivery. “Breech” is also the part of a firearm (e.g., a rifle or cannon) found at the rear end of its barrel.
“It’s clearly a breech birth when the doctor sees the newborn’s bottom breach the birth canal.” – Dr. Ron Minson