Words Are Wolves: writing with an Anglo-Saxon bias

“Words are wolves, they impart a certain quality and it’s called diction.”

by Donald McMiken, ACT Writers Centre member

 Word choice gives our writing a distinctive flavour and getting it right is an essential art of writing. Words are wolves, they impart a certain quality and it’s called diction. Some words are exactly right and in this we are spoiled for choice. English has a profusion of loanwords from other languages that strengthens it’s underlying Anglo-Saxon origins, such as the Old English of Beowulf, Chaucer and Shakespeare. However, there are Norse influences from many Viking invasions and Ancient Celtic are embedded deep within our modern language, too. In English the mentally deranged can be: mad (Anglo-Saxon) crazy (Norse) wild (German) feral, frenzied or insane (Latin) berserk (Icelandic) or amok (Malay) not to mention nuts, whacko, bonkers or batty (slang). And our future may be ruled by chance (Old French) destiny (French) fate (Latin) karma (Sanskrit) kismet (Arabic) or serendipity (Sri Lankan).

To give your prose a stronger Anglo-Saxon flavour write use instead of utilize. Replace currency with money. Write Dead rather than deceased or defunct. Hard is more direct than difficult. Weak is more definite than frail. Grasp is quick and sharp, not slow to understand. Stop is commanding over desist. Wet has a ickyness moist lacks. Person is more me and more you than individual or human. A man is more human than male. Showing amplifies a mere exhibit. Kill is direct, less mealy-mouthed than sacrifice, eliminate or liquidate. Stench emits a stronger odour than aroma. A belly or midriff has an anatomical veracity that stomach lacks. Gut is more primal than viscera. Leaf Fall has imagery Autumn lacks. A dog is a man’s best friend, but Germanic hounds hunt the fox. Size is more visual than calibre. Lamb is juicier than mutton. A hearty welcome is warmer than a cordial reception. And most of us prefer a good woman to an amiable female.

Notice these longer, more formal words of Norman-French and Latin are somewhat flowery, and less direct, they leach visual effect and emotional power from your prose. So do a global search on such words and change them to Anglo-Saxon, if and only if, these new words are the very best words for the job. You can pick up Latin words by endings: -er, -or, -um, -a, -ae, -us, -i, -ix and -ces, and replace them using you own vocabulary or with the help of an online thesaurus. This will strengthen your prose.

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