Writing Tools: Let Our (S)words Rival Fencer’s Accuracy

Writing Tools: Let Our (S)words Rival Fencer’s Accuracy

I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine – Emily Dickinson

Arup Chakraborty Updated: Saturday, December 16, 2023, 11:00 PM IST
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Writing Tools: Let Our (S)words Rival Fencer’s Accuracy |

Using a word is sometimes a matter of style, because there are many terms widely used in loose or extended senses. There are no strict rules for it. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the exact meaning of a word before using it, so that the meaning remains clear.

There are many “removable words” and “confusing terms” in the English language. A writer, a journalist, a student or a teacher should master the art of twigging a word, which comes through years of hard work and reading.

Flee from or flee without a preposition?

This intransitive verb is often confused with “fly.” But “flee,” as the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary (volume one) explains, it signifies “to run away” from or as from danger; take flight; hasten or run for safety or protection. OSED further says, this verb should be followed by from, out of, to, into.

Ergo the myth, that this verb is not followed by “from” or by “any other preposition,” is in vogue among some modern writers and editors. But if the word is used to signify that the place from where a person has fled is not known or he has fled from a condition that is abstract, the preposition “from” is not required.

Goldstein had fled and was hiding no one knows where – George Orwell

When “flee” means to withdraw hastily, go away or to leave, it is followed by “from.”

Two years later he fled from society – AB Jameson

“To flee” also means to run or hasten away (from a person, place etc, especially in case of a disease or an abstract situation.

Hundreds of Jews are leaving the city as if fleeing the plague. Bird Watching Continental Birds… fleeing food failures – B Malamud

Absent

It is used as an adjective (Your friends were absent). If the students want to use it as a verb, they should do so with the help of a reflexive pronoun – he absented himself. But it is better to use this word as an adjective. Using “absent” as preposition is Americanism (Absent evidence the jury must acquit the MP). In such cases it is always good to use – without or in the absence of.

Affect, effect

Most of us know that to affect signifies to influence or to have an impact on someone or on something. It also means to produce an effect. There is barely any confusion over it.

But when affect means to put on a false show of something, it causes confusion to even many seasoned writers and journalists.

He tried or affected to tire – Walter Scot

I affected even a deeper sincerity – G Vidal

It also means to assume or display the character of or to take upon oneself (to do), profess, says SOED.

He affected the freethinker – Carlyle

“Affect” also means to aim at. But the students should be cautious about its employment in a general sense.

Have I affected wealth or honour? –William Shakespeare, Henry VI

“Affect” also means to wear, but it is rarely used in common parlance.

He took to wearing the black leather jackets that most of his colleagues … affected –M Bradbury

A few grammarians believe that “effect” is only a noun, but it may also be used as a verb, which means to bring something about. It is slightly confusing, though.

A police officer may use reasonable force … to effect the arrest – RCA White

Similarly affect is also a noun. The word used as a noun has stress on the first syllable, meaning someone’s feelings and emotions, but its use exists only as a technical term in psychology. It means the conscious subjective aspect of an emotion, considered apart from any bodily changes, it may produce. It especially means as manifested by their appearance – a flat affect. This is avoidable unless the situation demands.

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