Great Words & Editing Gaffs

I am slamming through Game Change by John Heilmann and Mark Halperin like a hot knife through butter. Not only are they telling a great story, they are making extraordinary use of language. I like nothing better than sitting in my favorite spot on the sofa with the dictionary close by to look up luscious words like perfunctory, evisceration and cognoscenti.

Reading about the outrageous John and Elizabeth Edwards, complete with their pretentiousness and proclivities, or the sometimes tepid and always tempestuous Clintons, I'm reminded of the eloquence and literary genius of Pat Conroy (Beach Music, Prince of Tides). He, too, told tales using amazing word choices.

I started reading voraciously about ten years ago, soaking up hundreds of novels and countless non-fiction pieces, returning to some of the best ones several times over. The use of words soaked into me and splashes out as my blogs or stories spill out from my brain, through the keyboard and on to the screen. Sometimes a word slips into a sentence that just seems right, although its definition eludes me. Nine times out of ten, a quick trip to the dictionary or a Google word search confirms my choice as being bang on.

I started a list of great words in an unfilled journal a couple of months ago. Here are seven entries:

ephemeral, adj - lasting or of use for only a short time, transitory

bifurcate, adj + verb - forked, branched or divide into two branches

divagation, noun - a literary digression

ubiquitous, adj - present everywhere in several places at once

denizen, noun - an inhabitant or occupant

paroxysm, noun - a sudden attitude or outburst

mien, noun - a person's look or bearing

The interesting words leap off the page and grab my attention, incidentally, so do errors. I think I caught one in Game Change. Tell me I'm wrong.

But she had decided to ignore all that, to disregard the risks, because of Solis Doyle's signal virtue: a loyalty so fierce that she would run through a wall for Hillary. (Game Change, p. 182, paragraph two)

I'm thinking that "signal" was supposed to be "single".

And though it's only my opinion,
I may be right or wrong,
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown.

Bob Dylan, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

March 23, 2010 - 191.6 pounds, 28.3% body fat


  1. nope, "signal virtue" is actually a valid phrase. dunno where it came from but i believe it essentially refers to a person or thing's telling virtue. ie, one may have many virtues but one of them may stand out more.

  2. Quoting Cory Doctorow: English's signal virtue is its malleability. If you want to speak a language with jealous guardians, switch to German or French.

    English is a live language undergoing change in different parts of the world by the minute!


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