Sunday, August 3, 2014

First Post! -- Fun with Heterophones

Well, after months of debating whether or not I should open my blogging up to the wider wilder world of the intarwebz, I have finally decided to begin a standalone blog dedicated to my adventures in writing.  To those of you who may stumble upon this poorly designed first post, welcome!  And I apologize.  To those of you whom I personally guilted (or blackmailed) into visiting this blog, welcome!  And I apologize.  And to the archaeologist two hundred years into the future who is going to spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of time on the "blogosphere" in an attempt to understand the social structure of humans in the twenty-first century, welcome!  And I apologize.  In advance.

As I considered what topic I might address first, I decided I would begin with my personal nemesis when preparing first drafts of anything:  heterophones.

Strictly speaking, the word "heterophone" has been defined in two distinct but related ways.  The first definition describes any of a limitless list of word pairs in which the words are spelled differently, have different meanings, and have different pronunciations.  (By this definition we might consider "orange" and "apple" heterophones just as easily as we would "red" and "reed.") The second definition more specifically applies to words that are written identically but have different pronunciations and meanings (i.e. "does," the present tense form of "to do," versus "does," meaning multiple female deer).

However, my use of the word relates specifically to a personal phenomenon.  It refers to my unusual proclivity toward replacing one word with a sometimes (but not always) vaguely similarly sounding word.  Sometimes the replacement word might not seem even remotely similar to the word I intended, but it may somehow be etymologically or cognitively connected to the topic of conversation at hand.  For instance, a few times a week, variations of this particular conversation might be overheard as my partner and I eat dinner and binge-watch bad BBC television on Netflix:

Katherine:  "Honey, can you pass me the remote control?"
Me:  "I don't see it.  Are you sure you didn't put it under the fish?"
Katherine:  *slow blink*
Me:  "Fish.  Plate.  Blanket."
Katherine:  *lifts blanket and finds remote*

Indulge me as I explain my oral composition process.  My brain processes ideas very quickly.  Oftentimes too quickly.  The moment a thought has fully-formed in my head and I've begun speaking said thought aloud, my brain has already moved on to what I might say next.  Perhaps my thoughts have already completely derailed and I have begun mulling over some other topic.  In the above scenario, Katherine happened to have been sitting cross-legged on the sofa with a dinner plate sitting on her lap.  My intent was to ask whether she might have set the remote control under the blanket sitting right next to her.  But even as the words stumbled off my tongue, my attention had already wavered.  I watched as she seasoned her plate of fish, and I began to salivate over the delicious piece of tilapia that had just come out of the pan. By the time I got to the word "blanket," the word "fish" had replaced it in my mental foreground.  It took me three full attempts to retrieve the originally intended word.

My writing is not immune from such errors.  I've just finished up a month of working on my upcoming novel during Camp NaNoWriMo.  For those who haven't participated in any of the various "NaNo" projects before, the premise is simple.  You dedicate a particular month to completing a draft of some project, whether it's a novel, a screenplay, some nonfiction paper, etc.  For novels, the general goal is to complete 50,000 words in 30 (or 31) days.

I've been working on the aforementioned novel for almost six months now, but I have not yet created one beginning-to-end fully realized draft.  I decided that, for July 2014, I would complete at least 50,000 words of the draft within 31 days.  The end result is that, amongst all the insanity of my sister's wedding, 1400 miles of driving, and my ordinary work responsibilities, I had to write a bit less than 2,000 words a day.  I'm not saying that the task is impossible (it obviously isn't), but it takes a particular level of dedication that many lose midway through the month.

I make a valiant attempt to disregard my inner editor during these writing sprints.  I have to kick her to the curb, or else I'd be lucky if a single complete sentence ever made it onto the page.  Some writers will intentionally disable the backspace key during these sprints.  While I'm not quite that determined to avoid editing entirely, I do try very hard not to re-read unless I need to remember details of something I'd drafted earlier.  The end result?  A draft so full of heterophones that Katherine (the only one who seems to be able to interpret them) has to go back and make a note for each one she finds. The result can sometimes be more interesting than the intended sentence.  Just yesterday I stumbled across a sentence where I referred to a particular character as a woman's "lady husband" (i.e., "late husband"). 

The point to all of this discussion is that sentential construction is rarely the simple task we tend to assume it to be.  Language is complex, the brain moreso, and there are a million microsteps along the way at which we might stumble, perhaps not even noticing we've tripped until a third or fourth proof-reading.  Be kind to those who present their souls to you in the written word.  Hold them accountable for poor proofing perhaps, but give them the benefit of the fish, too.

In my case, I choose to blame some underlying undiagnosed aphasia which will certainly eventually turn me into an inarticulate puddle.  Better get to writing then.  Those nouns won't verb themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment