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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

A few choice words

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Lynette Sowell

My front porch


“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

So wrote Mark Twain. Writers have used this quote to describe the process of writing for good reason. It’s very true.

It’s true in fiction and it’s equally true in news writing. There are many words which are easy to use and/or misuse. Accept and except, for example. Or the vexing its versus it’s, or they’re, their, there. Looking at those words in context, it’s usually not hard to decipher the writer’s intent, even if misused (although warning bells go off if you’re a member of the Grammar Police).

However, using almost-right words and right words have as much to do with their impact on a reader’s understanding and even their emotions.

When we read the news, we bring our feelings about a particular subject to our reading. In its highest form, news is supposed to be unbiased and informative, without the writer’s own opinions being inserted into the narrative. It should speak for itself, leaving the reader to come away with their own opinions or feelings, and can even spur them to take action and get involved. Ideally.

Things can get a bit tricky, though, when sitting down to write about something as mundane as budgets, for example. People can get very emotional about budgets, depending on their perspective. If it’s their tax dollars funding a budget, they can be either delighted, dismayed, disgusted, or depressed. It all depends on who you ask.

Disclaimer: The following musings do not reflect an actual proposed budget. Fortunately, budget season is around the corner, so pay attention over the next few months as these things pop up where the city, school district, and other tax-funded groups are concerned. 

When I compare a city department’s budget from one year to the next, if this year’s proposed funding is less than the prior year’s, I as a writer could use several terms to reflect that decrease in funds.

Like, starting with simply writing that the budget was “decreased.”

So, I could type: The projected budget is $35,000 decreased from last year.

Hmm, that’s kind of a boring sentence. Yawn. Kind of reads a little awkwardly, too.

Or, I could write: The projected budget for next year was slashed by $35,000.

That’s a bit more dramatic, don’t you think? That’ll make someone sit up and read.

But what constitutes slashed? Slashed connotes a violent, forceful, action. How about simply writing that the budget was cut? Chopped? Trimmed? Reduced? If I was feeling especially outraged, I could write the budget was gutted, disemboweled? (Ewww).

Yet does it matter how I personally feel about a department’s budget? Yes, of course how I feel matters! I, like all writers, carry around an opinion which I must work around.

But when I write? No, it doesn’t matter how I feel personally. What should matter is getting the information out to readers that, yes, a particular budget is not going to receive as much funding as it did last year, to the tune of $35,000. How readers feel should be entirely up to them.

The lightning bug and lightning are two very different things, changed by three little letters making up one word.


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