Monday, 14 March 2011

A Breathtakingly Stunning Post

As writers, do we always choose the right words? That question crossed my mind yesterday when, in a moment of madness (I have them quite frequently), I found myself gawping at the snow lying in the tops of the Lake District's fells. The moment of madness was not to do with the gawping, but with the snap decision to have a day trip to the Lake District, travelling up from Shropshire.

But there, before me, lay a most stunning scene. As soon as I thought of the word 'stunning', a conversation on the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild forum came to mind. When it comes to describing a view, scene or location, do we think about what we're writing? Take 'stunning' as an example. The verb to stun means to "make somebody dazed or briefly unconscious." Hmmm, so if the scene is stunning the person viewing it will be knocked unconscious, if only briefly. Do scenes actually knock people unconscious?

And then there's 'breathtaking'. If views are breathtaking, the mountain tops of the Lake District should be littered with bodies that have had the breath taken from them.

One forum member discussed his hatred of the word 'nestled'. It always annoyed him to read of towns 'nestling' in their surrounding hills. According to two of my dictionaries, to nestle is to settle down snugly or comfortably. How many towns do you see wandering around their locality and then hoisting up their skirts as they wiggle their bums and nestle into the folds of the surrounding land?

In reality, many of these words have become cliches and our use of them is simple laziness. We can't be bothered to come up with something more original. So, next time you find yourself writing a travel article and want to describe the scene in front of you, just stop and think for a moment. Are the words that spring to mind the most appropriate? Do they mean what you think they mean and are you being lazy with your choice of words?

As for my view, well, all I can say is that it was pulchritudinous ;-)

Good luck!

PS - Sally Quilford's excellent blog, Quiller's Place, is hosting an Anti-Conning Writers' Day on 25th March. She's looking for examples of unscrupulous or dubious 'services' that are offered to writers in order to bring these scams to the attention of writers. For more information, visit the post in question here:


  1. Pulchritudinous! Love it and I'm off to the dictionary right now to check it out.

  2. Are you calling for all metaphors to be banned, Simon? :-)

  3. Heehee! Banning all metaphors. Now there's a thought! Perhaps we could just ban the cliched ones?

  4. I got told off by English teacher once for plucking random words out of dictionaries and trying to include them in my work. This post has reminded me of that for some reason! Mainly because you made me look in one. A very pulchritudinous view indeed.

    Lovely place to go for a mad moment. I used to do the same in the New Forest until one of the lovely ponies kicked me!

  5. Heart-stoppingly accurate and I concur wholeheartedly. All those metaphors drive me plain round the bend and up the wall.

    Lovely picture though. I'm just grateful I'm still conscious...

  6. A pleasant picture, Simon. That should be enough, but feels as if it isn't. All right, it's a very pleasant picture. Maybe we should have a campaign for whatever the opposite of hyperbole is. Plain speech, perhaps.

  7. A few years ago I worked on the Easy English Project (basically, putting books of the Bible into very simple English for it to be translated into other languages.)
    I had the challenge of putting 'Genesis' into Easy English Level A, using a vocabulary of only 1200 words (which included I, is, etc)
    That was an exercise in thinking about using words!
    (for more info on Easy English )