Use words I recognise

SODKurt Vonnegut Jr used to tell his Creative Writing students:  Use words that I will recognise.  (Actually, as an American, he probably spelled it ‘recognize’; but you know what I mean.)

There was a professor on the radio this morning talking about sleep.  She said that people catastrophize about not getting enough.  I didn’t hear what she said after that.  I was distracted, thinking about all of the poor people who were catastrophizing about not getting enough sleep.  It sounded awful.

And, the more I thought about all of these poor people catastrophizing, the more I worried that I might not even be spelling this unfamiliar word correctly.  So I tried to look up catastrophizing in a couple of dictionaries.  In both cases, catastrophe was there.  And so too was catastrophic.  But there was no mention of catastrophize.  So I searched on the Internet.

If the Internet is to be believed (and that’s not always the case), it seems that catastrophize is a term that psychologists use.  I guess the professor forgot that she was talking to a bunch of non-psychologists.

It reminded me of one of the late Elmore Leonard’s ‘rules’ of writing: Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.

As Mr Leonard pointed out: ‘The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.  But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.’  Mr Leonard said that he ‘once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.’

Mr Leonard didn’t say whether or not he got back to Ms McCarthy.  But, by the time I had looked up catastrophize and got back to the radio, the professor had gone.

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