Calling a Spade

My apologies for my tardiness. The kitchen is a pit. I expect to need fire to cleanse it properly. Maybe napalm, though I’ll have to find a recipe for that. But at least we skinned the bastard. And the cheesecake was pretty good. I think the goat cheese made it a little more dense than I would have liked. And next time I’ll alter the spice levels. I mean, I like spices as much as the next guy, but it should really be in support of the primary flavors, to open them up. Not to take a bite and thing, “wow, spices.” Neither of which will prevent me from sucking down the rest of it. It will be my privilege.

The morning was our big gathering, of sorts. Family is all points west of us, and travel is scheduled for the new year, so Mrs. Dave and I pursued her family’s tradition of a Thanksgiving morning brunch and invited over several of her coworkers. We’ve done this a few times, and each time has been fairly successful. This time was … more stressful than the rest. It took me a comical amount of time to realize that my sous chef (the lovely and redoubtable Mrs. Dave) was occupied with occupying the Pint-sized Tyrant, Wee Dave. And thus slowing the cooking process down. Turns out they’re not just like pets. Who knew?

Regardless, the morning went well, several people were fed, Wee Dave discovered that Newfoundlands have a taste, and Jack tolerated the bizarre, squirmy, bald puppy that was inexplicably higher in the pack order than he was. The upshot was that I was pretty sure I was done cooking for the day (Lizard Brain craved bourbon and video games, at least) before even pulling the Bird out of the brine. Polling Mrs. Dave, I discovered that she felt much the same way. As it was just the two of us once Wee Dave made his exhaustion known and was retired to his lair, I made an executive decision.

I did roast the turkey, the skin was crispy and brown (butter over the skin, butter under the skin, butter in the cavity) and the breast meat moist without being salty. I plattered the sucker, and we went to town right there in the kitchen. His skin came off, then the knives came out. It was one of those moments you envision as a child, assuming adults get to have ALL THE FUN after you go to bed, and when you grow up and have children of your own, you find out that mostly what Mommy and Daddy do after you go to bed is clean up from the havoc of the day. Well, we had one of those moments where being an adult is as awesome as a child thinks. Then there was more cheesecake.

Which brings me to what this post is actually about: specificity of language, as the title should suggest. As there was very little stupidity in evidence on the internet at large (barring much of the atrocious behavior in Ferguson, and atrocious commentary thereon) I’m left without low hanging fruit to pick, and must therefore actually discuss writing. Tragic, I know, but I shall soldier on somehow.

As writers, we attempt to create and convey entire worlds to people we’ve never met. People who aren’t friends and family with decades of experience dealing with our personal quirks of language. Frankly, that we manage it at all is a source of wonder to me. That normal people manage it from day to day enough to survive is astonishing in the extreme.

Many disagreements arise from poor word choice (and also tone of voice and other nonverbal cues, but text makes that harder, and it deserves its own post, so go with it for now) in the day-to-day Brownian interaction of human on human. Poor word choice in a written work ensures that an editor never sees it (that cut is left to the poor, oppressed, slush-reading, unpaid intern. or worse, an agent) or – for those of us reveling in the freedom of indie – that a potential reader is turned off our work, and (horror of horrors) chooses not to make some of their hard-earned money into some of our hard-earned money.

This is a thing to be avoided under any circumstances.

And so, learning to call a spade a spade is important. More important for us, the stealers of worlds, is learning why a shovel is not necessarily a spade. One does not shovel coal with a spade, nor snow. Steam is not involved – generally, unless one is a retro-futurist on a chrono-temporal jaunt – nor diesel.

In any case, once you’ve called a spade (“hey, spade!” “I’m not a spade; I’m a shovel, you toolist.”) acquire the services of a truly good editor, since you’ve certainly certainly replaced the wrong word with a bodily function somewhere. And that’s just messy.


  1. A turkey by any other name, depending on the chef, and the need for food by the appraiser. . . . This language, English, where the proper word choice is compounded by English words having multiple and often contradictory meanings…so that what is written is often not what is read.

    In fact, the monk who wrote “The Blue Cliff Record” was so disappointed in the arguments his word fueled that he tried to burn his own book, and that was before it was translated into English, and into a different culture.

  2. One thing I’ve discovered is that with time, word choice seems to improve, sometimes. I can tighten the prose only if I’ve been away from it for a while. On the other paw, I’m not certain if that’s improving it, though.

    English is almost too bountiful. There’s no way to get hung up on, oh, say, scarlet, carmine, crimson, cardinal, ruby, brick, or southern clay red in German or Latin.

  3. You’d think with all the autocomplete jokes running around the internet, we’d get desensitized to malapropisms. Doesn’t seem to be happening. Everything is excessively polarized, everyone’s got a chip on his or her shoulder, looking for an excuse to take offense, and totally stressed out.

    I blame it on the economy, high unemployment, trying to not notice the looming fiscal crisis, and the permanent underclass realizing how very trapped and used they are, with no way out.

    1. It’s much easier to hear from the offended ones these days, but I think the League of the Perpetually Sensitive has always been with us. The examples I remember:
      – a newspaper account of a state dinner at the White House circa 1850, where the Sensitive One huffed about the presence of wine on the table when the guest of honor was a known teetotaler
      – Gilbert & Sullivan’s skewering of those who love “every century but this and every country but his own”
      – what’serface from England who traveled in the United States and was offended by EVERYTHING.

  4. Don’t I know this.

    I could really use an iditor to inform the masses of little people reading my ramblings what I really mean.

    It’s not my fault that what I right is often an incoherent mess. Life would be easer if we could just read each other’s minds… Ahhhhh… never mind.


  5. No mental telepathy please. I have a shotgun mind, random thoughts skid across the neural paths, once in a while hang a right onto a path and coast into oblivion without volition. A person reading my mind would think one minute I was going to kill them, the next love them to death and the third minute, believe that I was going to sell them in the market at Deva. And the only buyer available was a coal miner.

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