Pregnant, purple stretch jumpsuit doing little to hide the obvious, bare feet in sandals, and slightly out of breath from a quick walk along Broadway from West 67 up to the campus at 116th I approached my professor for clarification- my paper had received an A- but only had one word with a line drawn through it as a marking, and I wondered how I could improve the focus, the details, the general tone of the piece? The piece as a whole was fine I was told, but the word had been a poor choice-diction- and suggested more than one meaning. “But it’s just one word?” I asked, unsure…and letting my annoyance slip through. “Never “JUST” one word” replied my prof in his inimitable way, then the clincher: “Alison,EVERY word counts; this IS linguistics,” Well I laughed, and I learned.
Today I hear students referring to word count and they mean how many words are allowed on a paper, or rather, how many words must they write. I want them to write “as much as possible”, because editing a work is part of the process. But most assignments do have a word count as do admissions essays and twitter blogs-
Diction or word choice becomes essential when the reader only has a minute to decide about a piece, Valuing the reader’s minute is a sign of respect, saying, “I care that you understand this”-and it is a skill that can be taught. But like many skills, the learning rarely takes only a minute.