Just a minute…

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.






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