Sunday, January 27, 2008

Words, Words, Words

I'm still working my way through Gardner's THE ART OF FICTION. There's a word he keeps using that I thought I understood, but finally felt driven to look up, in case I was wrong.

The word was "profluence," which means being profluent: flowing copiously and smoothly. That's pretty much what I figured, but because it's so obscure -- it wasn't even in the first dictionary I consulted -- it's distracting. It doesn't help that I keep seeing it as akin to "flatulence." I suspect that's because, given what Mr. Gardener had to say about "junk" fiction, the people who read it and the people who write it, I can't help thinking of him as a big windbag.

Because of something I read on a message board I've also been thinking about the difference between "sardonic" and "sarcastic." The key difference for me is that "sardonic" is gentler than sarcasm. It also implies a certain sense of humor, and in the case of my heroes especially, it's a sort of wry humor often directed at themselves. That is, if they say something sardonically, the object of their mockery is usually themselves, whereas the intent of sarcasm is to mock the other person. It aims to hurt somebody else. My heroes, then, can be sardonic. Villains, however, will more likely be sarcastic.

Then there are words I thought I understood, only to find out I was wrong. For years, I though "bemused" meant confused, but in an amused way, as if the character's thinking, "What the heck are you talking about?" with a grin on his face. Instead, it just means confused, or bewildered or lost in thought. Nothing particularly funny about it. D'oh!

There are words that I can never seem to remember how to spell properly, too. "Occasion" is one -- one "s" or two? And I am forever typing "chose" when I mean "choose." That's the time spell check really doesn't help.

Ah, words! They can be pesky little devils sometimes, eh?


Christine d'Abo said...

I thought bemused meant the same thing you did. I think a lot of people use it that way.

And you've been Roared on my blog!

Margaret Moore said...

Glad to hear I'm not alone. Wonder how we got that mistaken impression.

And thanks for the Roar. That's neat!