Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid in Writing and Speech

19 May

9:28 a.m. — Atlanta

Okay, the title exhausted me. That’s it…No, but I am tired. It has been a rough week. I never thought, when I retired eleven months ago, that I would still be looking forward to summer vacation and a rest!

Are you glad to be back to no no words? Have you missed them? You are curious as to what else I am going to pull out that will make you realise with horror, that even if you don’t use it in your writing, it does crop up in your speech, aren’t you? To a degree the battle I fight is a losing one. As my mother reminds me when I begin to froth: Language evolves. Okay…but some things I will go to the barricades for because we sound more articulate, more coherent, clearer in both speech and writing without certain words which have become almost standard as a part of speech.

Well! That woke me up. I shall give you two words today, in an effort to keep this short. You have had a lot from me this week. The words are synonyms with nuanced differences, but we’re not here to worry about the differences. The words are begin/began [to] and start/started [to]. And these do appear in poetry as well as prose.

They are misused, much as adverbs are; they qualify other verbs where they are not needed. Let us begin with their meanings. Note my deliberate use of begin, meaning to take the first step in doing something. I am taking the first step in explaining where the words start and begin should, or should not be used, by discussing their meanings. Taking a first step implies there will be a next step. That is key.

On stage the music begins to play. If we read or hear that, we expect a next step. Our brains are already asking: Then what? If no next step exists, what should have been said is The music is playing, or the music plays, indicating an ongoing situation that requires no next step to make sense. On stage the music begins to play and the conductor walks out. First step signals the second step.I can still argue that begins is not needed: On stage the music plays and the conductor walks out. The fact that the music is playing implies the point that it began.

Start means to begin [take the first step] an activity, or movement. When she saw the monster, she started to run. No she didn’t. When she saw that monster, she ran. However, when she saw the monster, she began to run, but tripped and fell. First step signals the second step. Again, I can argue that started to is not required: When she saw the monster she ran, but tripped and fell. The beginning is implied by the doing of the act. She has to have started, if she is running.

In both cases, I find the statements clearer and more immediate without the qualifying of plays and ran with begins to and started to. Go back and read each. Which is cleaner sounding, less cluttered to your ear?

My second step? I gave you examples of misuse and correct use, after telling you the meanings.

As I should have been telling you with each of my Thursday Thoughts, if you have questions, if I have not been clear, or if you want to ask: What about when…please do ask me in comments. I am rarely happier than when discussing language.

Tomorrow we have  this week’s prompts roundup with two new entrants; Tuesday we shall play with cinquains; and next Thursday, the conditional tense [You are all guilty. Alright, maybe one or two aren’t.].

If you think anyone will enjoy this, click on the buttons below. Send me questions if you have them. Otherwise, happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 19/05/2011 in poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

5 responses to “Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid in Writing and Speech

  1. anjum wasim dar

    19/05/2011 at 3:36 pm

    If music be the food of love, play on…
    start begin commence roll on
    Hark stay wait tarry a while
    see look don’t stare, smile-
    I must say that I am all, but taken in
    where do I begin…
    where do I start
    someone sent me a heart
    mine was all but lead and stone
    dead inside with meat and bone
    emotions too had turned to ashes
    no blushes but palor no flashes
    where do I begin
    with color fresh and life anew
    where do I start
    with my newly gifted heart…

  2. margo roby

    19/05/2011 at 3:55 pm

    I love this, Anjum. So clever and fun.

  3. anjum wasim dar

    19/05/2011 at 4:13 pm

    Dear M -me happy you happy-Gemini clever and witty-
    hope you are fit and fine -It looks as if you have missed the lines I wrote on May the 8th photo prompt in your group- I request a comment and review from you-shall I send the poem over- from the Constellation

  4. margo roby

    19/05/2011 at 4:24 pm

    Anjum: I never look at the photo posts — I don’t have time. If you have something you want me to see then the daily thread or email is the best bet, but I don’t comment on everything that goes through the DT either, because of time…

  5. anjum wasim dar

    19/05/2011 at 5:45 pm

    OK I understand I just thought …its OK I will send you by email- my poor inbox….Oh Dear ,


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