What’s the Word?

Recently I suffered mild abuse from fellow writers for my use of regionalisms—words that make perfect sense to me but not to the range folk of Colorado. I wrote about an old farmhouse, a Cape, which in New England denotes a house with a central front door opening onto a hallway with a flight of stairs that include a half-way landing. (My son and daughter-in-law live in just such a house built in 1819.) Now to describe all of that when the one word Cape could do the work, well, I refuse to be driven to verbosity. Similarly, my use of dooryard was questioned. What exactly is a dooryard? It’s the area around the front door, but not a doorway, which is too restrictive. At said Cape, our dooryard was large enough to turn a team of horses or a dump truck. We also had in the kitchen a sink window—yes, the window over the kitchen sink.

These colloquialisms are perhaps distinct. And I treasure that distinction. So much of American English is homogenized, flattened by media, short changed by texting. If I can tolerate reading about nin berries and klaru bulbs in a memoir of Nisa of the Kalahari, why can’t my American readers bear with me in matters of New England farms? No one complained about puckerbrush, thank heaven. It’s not in my American Heritage Dictionary, so I’d have trouble defending it. But it’s important that I get the right word for the sentence, the tone, the style, etc. As Mark Twain famously said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is “the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” English has 1,025,109.8 words according to the estimate by the Global Language Monitor as of January 1, 2014. So it’s no use saying we cannot find the exact word. Given so many choices, we have only to persist. (I wonder how they came up with that .8)

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