English is an Effing Weird Language

You know, for being so dang popular, the English language is absolutely nuts.

You can say things like ‘it’s effing weird’ and people will get what you mean, even though effing is clearly not a word.

(It’s a phonetic spelling of a contraction of the gerund conjugation of a curse word.)

English is an incredibly flexible language, and has one of the biggest vocabularies of all the languages in the world.

You can use nouns as verbs (“I’m gonna Instagram it”) and make up portmanteaus (“they have this weird frenemy bromance thing going on”)…

If you’re a writer, you can bend it and twist and basically make it whatever you want it to be.

But with so much fun to be had, and so much flexibility, there’s also a lot of danger.

There are so many ways you can be misunderstood.

There are contranyms and persistent adjective orders and regional idioms, and that’s not even thinking about the multiple grammatical ‘schools’ and punctuation systems used around the world.

(Flaming Internet wars over the Oxford comma, anyone?)

My point is that if you are a writer, one of the most important things you can do in your work is to make sure you cannot be misunderstood.

There are some common ways writers find themselves being misinterpreted by their readers:

1. Using idiom to communicate an idea, rather than spelling it out.

Every country and region has differing idioms or ‘sayings,’ and there’s no way to know if your reader a) understands what you’re saying at all or b) has the same definition for the idiom as you.

For example: “he’s up sh*t creek without a paddle” is an Australian idiom. It means, “he’s in big trouble and has no way of getting out of it”.

But without an explanation, most of my readers would have absolutely no idea what I was saying.

Idiom can work if you know you audience extremely well and you know they have a shared dialect as you, but otherwise, steer clear.

2. Making lazy word choices.

With such a massive variety in vocabulary, there is almost certainly a word for exactly what you mean to say, if you take the time to think about it. Choosing the right word communicates much more than choosing the obvious word.

Choosing obvious words and common metaphors makes for very boring writing. Consider the difference between:

“She looked out the window. It was raining cats and dogs.”

… and…

“She peered out at the torrent of rain lashing the window.”

The first is boring and forgettable. The second is evocative and energetic.

Push yourself to find fresh, precise words and imagery to give your writing force and clarity.

3. Choosing fancy words and structures instead of simple ones.

Should your proclivity be an acquiescence to your superior faculties, obfuscate your missives with arcane selections and labyrinthine syntactical forms.

Or, if you want people to feel dumb around you, confuse them with fancy word choices and complicated sentence structures.

Make it easy for people to understand you. No one is impressed with puffy, grandiose writing — it’s irritating and obstructive.

Say what you mean, as precisely as you can, in as few words as possible.

That’s not to say your writing can’t have style, or that you should never put any personality into it.

Some people write with a very lean, economical style, and that writing is very powerful.

But if your style is chatty and full of detours and surprises, go for it! That style is powerful too.

Just keep it tight — hone your language so that every word serves a purpose, and can only be understood as you mean it to be.

The best way to make your writing as powerful and clear as possible is to do a lot of it.

Practice. Write often — daily if you can. Read work from great communicators and work out how they do it.

And if you need help, get it.

How To Write This Book has all this and much more insight into the process of writing a book so that your readers are compelled to act.

It’s designed to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page quickly, clearly and in a style that’s uniquely compelling. Get your copy here, and if you want something more hands-on, reply to this email and we can chat about it.