Monday, May 10, 2010

Choosing My Words Carefully

I recently attended a young adult book reading in New York and got a chance to meet Carolyn Mackler, one of my favorite writers. I went up to her after the reading and blurted out, “Hi, I'm Sam and I love your word choice!” then felt like a fool for my immature exuberance. She was very gracious and seemed to appreciate that I noticed how careful she is with every word.

I first became aware of how important word choice is when I was working on my senior thesis at Barnard College. My thesis adviser was Mary Gordon and I was working on an unpublished, semi-autobiographical novel. I had used the word “vehicle” in what I thought was a joking way about my narrator's car. Professor Gordon stopped over the word and very gently crossed it out. She wrote in “car” above. “There are some words you never, ever use in spoken English or written English,” she explained. “This is one of them.”

I immediately grasped what she was talking about. Professor Gordon had opened a whole new world of language for me. I started to study word choice in everything: emails, conversations, books and magazines. Her advice, coupled with the advice of my editor in my journalism career, has convinced me that every word and where it is placed is important. Even little ones like “and” and “the.”


  1. Flaubert, no doubt you know, was fanatical about "le mot juste". P.G. Wodehouse was also all about word choice. You're in good company!

  2. If you're like me and you extend this idea to conversations with those you love, it can be very demanding (for them).