Saturday, June 21, 2008
A Weighty Question
In an oral culture, words shift around, depending on who's using them. One of the on-line lists I follow has been having a discussion about using slang words in writing -- the words under discussion were 'skanky,' which I first heard a few years ago, 'hokey,' which has been a part of my vocabulary for a very long time, 'skeevy,' which was new to me, and 'hinky,' which I've heard and understand but don't use.
As the discussion went on, it became obvious that some of these words were used slightly differently in different parts of the country. And then one exasperated writer asked, 'Don't we have enough good words in English -- why do we need these new ones?'
This really amazed me as I can't think of a better way to delineate character than by the words, especially slang, he or she uses. Miss Birdie won't call someone a skank -- though she might recognize the word as we know she watches television -- she'd use the older word 'huzzy.' Elizabeth or Phillip would likely be familiar with the word 'hokey,' but Ben and Laurel would say 'sketchy.'
Slang is a wonderful part of a writer's tool-box -- you just have to fit it to the character.
But that leaves us with the question: What do you say (if you say it at all) -- butt naked or buck naked?