This is a repost from Marja McGraw’s author blog, which I follow. It is so appropriate after the article I read this past week about a middle school teacher who was arrested and suspended from his job for writing thrillers having to do with middle school violence. He was, apparently, a great teacher, and he didn’t spend school hours writing the books. The books are fiction.
Here is what Marja has to say about words:
Several years ago, before “going postal” became a catch phrase, I was at work and talking to one of the maintenance men. I was mildly annoyed about something someone did (I can’t recall what or who) and I said, “Oh, I could just shoot him.” This maintenance man was horrified, and I was quite surprised. I hadn’t said it with venom, or even anger. I had to explain that it was only a figure of speech. He didn’t know what that meant so I had to explain it to him. By the time I walked away, I could have throttled the maintenance man, figuratively speaking.
As a writer, it breaks my heart to hear people trying to clip figures of speech out of the American dialogue. For crying out loud, not everything is meant to be taken seriously and not everything has a hidden or double meaning. A cliché is a cliché, and a figure of speech is just that – a figure of speech. There’s a time for political correctness (PC); however, I tend to think of PC as using common courtesy and common sense speech. Unfortunately, translation has gone way beyond accepting courtesy and common sense.
If I overheard someone plotting a murder and they said, “I could just shoot him,” that’s one thing. However, if I heard a friend say the same thing about the husband she was frustrated with, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. She would have been venting, letting go of some of her frustration, and that would probably be a good thing.
I was at the airport and someone asked me what I do for a living. I almost told her I write murder mysteries, but I caught myself and simply told her I’m a writer. Good grief! I didn’t want the TSA calling me aside because someone overheard me utter the word murder. I also didn’t want to be a diva and look down my nose at her and say, “I’m an author. (sniff)” I’m just a simple writer with simple ways, but I do write darned good mysteries that aren’t simple. I should be able to be proud of that and sing out the words, “I write murder mysteries! I think you’d like them,” without looking over my shoulder.
So, okay, as a writer I think people are getting carried away with the hidden meaning of words and phrases. I think the Word Police need to take a step back and think about the context in which these figures of speech are being used. Frankly, I think everyone should take a step back and hopefully realize they’re frequently making a big deal out of nothing. (Yes, I realize sometimes things are a big deal.)
I know we live in some trying and scary times and there’s more violence in the world than there should be. However, lighten up a little. There’s enough drama with what’s really going on today without worrying about catch phrases and clichés, especially in books. These are tools a writers uses from time to time and they’re also words that people use every single day, somewhere and in some way. It doesn’t mean everything they say should be taken literally.
This is at least the second time I’ve climbed up on my soap box, so it’s probably time to step down. I should get back to the mind-boggling idea of taking more comments with a grain of salt and letting others roll off my back. The only killing that goes on in my world is in books, and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t take offense if one of my characters says something that’s not politically correct. They’re just fictional people, after all.
Until next time, have a great week and stop looking over your shoulder for the Word Police. Enjoy life at least a little.
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