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Ways of Saying November 19, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Writing.
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I pass this sign surrounding a construction zone on campus when I leave my afternoon class:

 

 

 

I’ve seen multiple signs stating the same thing before, but they’re typically in different languages. I love this pair of signs saying the same thing, both in English. One uses a single word that’s universally known. The other uses three words, one of which might send folks to a dictionary. Makes me wonder how the two came about. Did someone hang the “Egress” sign and then someone else comment, “Why didn’t you just say ‘Exit’?”

Another sign on campus actually did send me to a dictionary. It is along an alley under an overpass and it reads, CITY OF ATLANTA: CAUTION, BRIDGE SPALLING. I’m sure I’d never heard the word “spalling” before. As far as I can tell it means the bridge is breaking off into chunks and falling on our heads. Seems to me if chunks of bridge are going to fall on my head I shouldn’t need a dictionary to find out. (By the way, they erected these big nets to catch the bridge chunks. Reassuring.)

I’ve never been one to shy away from a big word. I actually liked vocabulary tests when I was little. I remember once walking down our street with my brother after a rousing Nerf Football game. I had learned a new word, and it was a doozy. It had an x and a q in it, a Scrabble monstrosity. It practically bubbled over in me as I sought an opportunity to use it in conversation. None arose, so I made one up. “So, Eric,” I said, casually. “Are there any girls in your class who are exquisite?” Ahhhh. The word rolled off my tongue. I was the master and commander of an ever-expanding sea of language.

Of course, Eric saw right through me. “Guess somebody learned a new vocabulary word in school today,” he replied, with equal measure of amusement and derision. I suppose that’s what big brothers are for.

These days, I have a different goal. I’ve grown to admire phrases that say something beautiful in a very simple way. My sentences tend to be too long and inaccessible, and while I still love a good ten dollar word I’m long past trying to use them to impress others.

Sarah Kate has to write these two-page papers for a class. I feel her pain when she finishes a masterpiece and it bleeds onto the third page by two lines. I struggle with letting go of a sentence, a phrase. But this is now my quest: Fewer words. More meaning.

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Comments»

1. DLS - November 22, 2010

It was on campus, so they felt they had translate it into geekspeak.


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