Friday word blog: sharpening your claws

When my cat enters the room, she gives a small greeting meow and goes straight to the sofa to sharpen her claws. (Occasionally, we’ll yell at her for this, but she just stares at us while continuing to shred our furniture. Strange shouty humans. The sofa’s a write-off anyway). Now, it’s essential for a cat to have razor claws, and it’s essential for a writer to know their chosen language fluently. Here, I mean the details, the nuts-and-bolts of the language. For me, it’s the old philosopher’s distinction between “knowing-how” and “knowing-that”. You know-how to speak a language, write a story, build a house, fix a car, solve a differential equation, etc, but you know-that the German for “to sleep” is “schlafen”, that Waterloo was in 1815, that the apostrophe goes before the -s on a singular but after on a plural except… etc. All the other posts on this blog are about knowing-how to write, but the Friday word blog is about knowing-that. Consider it sharpening your claws.

The first rule is that writers must have a huge vocabulary. They might not use it – Hemingway, for example, is famously sparse, and plenty have followed him – but they must recognise just about every word in current use. With that in mind, I invite you to visit Barta1994’s stackpage at the excellent Quizlet, and test yourself against William Golding.

You do know every single one of these, don’t you? Instinctively, immediately, fluently?

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