Welcome to our vocabulary bulding lesson. This blog comes to you on Wednesdays. As usual, we discuss some of the outstanding (not “new”) words and expressions we come across in people’s writings and speeches. We also highlight a few mistakes made by writers and speakers of this great English language, and rectify them. If you are yet to subscribe to our site, then kindly do so to receive email alerts of this blog and others.
Let’s begin today’s lesson with the following poem written by Dennis Odhiambo.
He was fiendish,
a completely deviant figure;
no one could tell
nor make a diagnosis
of his malady,
because he was completely reinvigorated
Across the neighbourhood,
the search for his identity intensified,
he was unpalatable and unacceptable;
perhaps, he was a foe
even to the unborn
The news of his arrival
echoed across the two ridges,
spreading from door to door
like jungle fire;
and there he was,
with no name, identity and race
He set up a tiny tent
next to the mupeli tree
while the curious crowd flooded,
glancing and glaring at him;
he was unmoved,
undisturbed and unshakable
No one knew
nor completely fathomed
what his mission was,
thus tongues shivered,
and hearts throbbed,
but no answer visualized
Dusk crept in,
ushering in darkness;
only crickets could be heard
singing graciously to their loved ones;
the moon shone serenely,
spreading a blanket of warmth
to the two ridges;
at a distance,
his tiny tent mercilessly stood
I gave up my weary persuit
for his chemistry;
he was indefinable –
all about him was henid;
I thus set off to his habitation,
and stormed into his tiny tent
It was pitch and dark
with no sign of life;
all I saw was his shadow
hanging on the same tree
he had erected the tiny tent:
he was gone, never to re-emerge,
to the land of no return
(C) 2022 Dennis Odhiambo, All rights reserved.
Meet the writer:
Dennis Odhiambo is Kenyan. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree programme in Education (Arts), English and Literature, at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) located in the Western Province of Kenya. He has been writing poetry since high school and draws his inspiration from reading the works of renowned poets such as Jared Angira (Kenyan) and the Late Langstone Hughes (American). He currently runs his personal website where he showcases his writing skills.
Meaning of italicised words as used in the poem
Fiendish: contrary to natural physique or behaviour (in a rather evil way).
Malady: a deep-seated defect or illness.
Reinvigorated: renewed in terms of life, energy or strength; revitalized.
Unpalatable: unpleasant; evoking disgust.
Serenely: clearly and peacefully.
Chemistry: social construction, in terms of one’s posture and undertakings.
Henid: wrapped in mystery; incomprehensible.
Using the right modifiers
A modifier is a word that tells us more about another word in a sentence. They are basically adjectives and adverbs. It is important as a writer to choose the right modifiers for your work so as to create a more vivid and outstanding description for your readers.
Simply saying something is nice or bad or has been done nicely or badly is not enough because it leaves the reader with lots of unanswered questions. And that is not the goal of writing.
If the aim of your writing is to create an impact, you should consider using more specific modifiers. Don’t leave your reader asking: nice in what way or great in what perspective? Simply nail the hammer on the head.
I came across the following description in Luisa Zambrotta‘s post “John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby“. It was made by the late American Author John Steinbeck way back in the 60’s to describe a racially regressive crowd of parents and students, and their denigrating remarks as they shouted at a little schoolgoing black girl, during a local protest against racial integration. Steinbeck, in his 1962 travelogue “Travels with Charley: Search of America“, insisted that American newspapers left out crucial details in their description of the scene. Consider how he uses modifiers to appeal to the reader.
“No newspaper printed the words these women shouted, but they only indicated that they were rude, or even obscene. On television the soundtrack was blurred or crowd noises were cut off. But I have heard the words, bestial, dirty and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life, I have already seen and heard the vomits of demonic humans. Why then did these screams fill me with awesome and nauseating pain?”From the blog “John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby” by Luisa Zambrotta (Feb. 6, 2022)
Care must, however, be taken to ensure no dangling modifiers are left in a piece of writing. These are words or clauses that do not clearly modify any word or group of words in a sentence. Keep in touch for an extensive discussion about this in our next Vocabulary Builder blog.
This week’s list of idioms
1. One brick short of a full load: crazy or stupid.
2. Play hooky/truant: deliberately skip work, school or duties without permission.
3. Take a long walk on a short pier: used to tell someone to go away or that their wish will not be granted. (Synonyms: go jump in the lake, sod off, get lost).
4. Roll the dice: try something risky.
5. A fly on the wall: a quiet or non-participatory observer (a witness).
Idioms add flavour to writings and speeches but only if used sparringly.
Common mistakes to avoid in writing
Using everyday in place of every day and vice verse.
“Every day” is an adverb meaning each day (daily) while “everyday” is an adjective meaning ordinary or usual. Avoid confusing their usages.
INCORRECT: I watch movies everyday.
CORRECT: I watch movies every day.
INCORRECT: Singing was an every day activity in the life of Cyril.
CORRECT: Singing was an everyday activity in the life of Cyril.
In the same manner, care must be taken when using indefinite pronouns with two morphemes such as anyone, everyone, something, someone, etc. and their divergent noun phrases such as any one, every one, some thing, etc.
INCORRECT: The choir was composed of teenagers, everyone of them wearing a pair of brown sneakers.
CORRECT: The choir was composed of teenagers, every one of them wearing a pair of brown sneakers. (“Every one” means each).
Many thanks for reading till the end. Kindly write your thoughts in the comments section below. See you here again next Wednesday with another chapter of “Vocabulary Builder”. Meanwhile, keep reading our blogs.
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