Fifty Shades of Gravy

Published May 23, 2012 by Ms. Nine

No, this is not a recipe blog.  I just couldn’t resist the title as I remembered a vocabulary lesson I taught years back.   As I recall, the lesson went like this…

     “Ms. Nine, why do we have so many words that mean the same thing?” Mark asked.  He folded his arms and jutted out his chin.  Mark’s preferred mode of communication was body language.  Words got in his way, especially vocabulary words.

     “Hmm…can you explain what you mean?  Try using more words,”   I said. 

     He huffed. “Okay.  Like pulchritude means beauty, right?  And spondulics means money.  Well, beauty and money is all I need.  Forget pulchritude and spondulics,” he declared, drawing giggles from the girls in class.

     I sighed.  No one loves words more than an English teacher.  I couldn’t stop myself from throwing him off balance a little. “Mark, have you ever had red-eye gravy?”

    “Huh?” he pinch up his face. “I don’t know.  Is it… like…a gravy?  I’ve had gravy.” More giggles from the girls.

    “Oh?  What kind of gravy have you had?”

     “Um… beef, turkey, and chicken.  Oh yeah, and lumpy.”  The class roared with raucous laughter.   

      The class was paying close attention to our conversation, now.  Ah, the teachable moment has arrived.  “How about sauce?  Have you ever had sauce?” I asked.

    “Like, spaghetti sauce?”

    “Yes – spaghetti, or brown sauce, velouté, or béchamel?  There are different kinds.”

    “Hmm…Okay, gravy and sauce, two words with similar meaning, I get it.”  He thought a minute before he continued, “So if I say pulchritude instead of beauty, I’m talking about physical beauty, right?  And spondulics isn’t exactly the same as cash.”

     I smiled. 

The right word, like the right gravy, complements the course a writer serves up.   The important thing to remember is that synonyms are not interchangeable.   Precise and purposeful wording is like perfectly spiced sauce.  You wouldn’t substitute cinnamon for turmeric, now, would you?

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