A Muddle of  Words Is a Bed of Mud

A reader of my blog pointed out a recent error of mine. The reader told me that I had made a mistake when I wrote that the word niggardly had association with the n-word when in fact it had no etymological connection with the racist term. I was surprised because, while I respected the reader since we have been friends for twenty-five years, I knew what I had written. Surely, I thought as I frantically searched for the essay on  my computer, he is mistaken. Not so!

My essay discusses the banning of offensive and thought to be offensive words. The following sentence is one that drew the reader’s attention: “When used to describe a person, disabled is still being fought over and a word like niggardly carries an unfortunate history and is banned from polite society forever.” What I had written was, sadly, not what I was thinking nor what I wanted to convey to my reader. After all, good writing is like a road (or Google) map that takes the reader from his or her point to that of the writer. My sentence is a tangle of thought, and it misleads. It also makes me appear to not know of what I write, thus giving my reader reason to question my legitimacy.

The following is what I wanted to convey to my reader and an improvement on what I had written: “When used to describe a person, disabled is still being fought over and a fine word like niggardly is banned because it is mistakenly associated with a similar sounding and racist word.”

To some extent I feel like Claude Bernard speaks to me when he writes, “It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.” While I have not refused to learn from the experience of my muddle of words, I have re-learned or re-enforced  the importance of proofing what I write, which is difficult because ownership gets in the way and there is no editor, but for me, available. The episode also leads me to do once again something when I wrote on a legal pad with a pencil—set the composition aside for a while before re-reading and proofing. However, the computer makes that difficult because it is such a quick way of writing, which is a blessing and a curse. But the computer’s conveniences are no excuse for publishing words that confuse instead of informing. After all, our words reveal our thinking and who of us wants to be thought foolish.

One thought on “            A Muddle of  Words Is a Bed of Mud

  1. Oh, I hate readers who write in with nitpicking pedantry and uninformed challenges.

    By the way, “But the computer’s conveniences is no excuse for publishing words that confuse instead of informing” should be “But the computer’s conveniences are no excuse for publishing words that confuse instead of informing”. Damn Americans, mangling the King’s English.

    Like

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