Roger That: A few words on writing
March 8, 2013
Roger Shirley is a former editor of the Nashville Business Journal and longtime editorial director here at MP&F. He reads just about everything we write. And we write a lot. This is Roger’s column about writing.
The Joy of Discovery
One of the great things about being editorial director at McNeely Pigott & Fox is that all the young people think I know everything about grammar and word usage – to them I am a walking search engine, a male Grammar Girl, a virtual cornucopia of encyclopedic information.
Maybe I know more than the average bear (Google it, young’uns); but I don’t know it all, and that’s what makes it fun. The joy of discovery.
The other day an email popped into my inbox: “Hey Roger, what’s the difference between instantly and instantaneously?” “Hmm,” I said to myself, “that’s a good one.” Electric impulses careened around in my brain as I thought it through for a couple of minutes.
“Six letters,” I finally responded.
OK, I knew there was a difference – there had to be – I just couldn’t articulate it. I walked back to the Cave, home of our staff associates and interns and where the question had originated, and had a good discussion about whether and how the words differ. After going around in a few circles, we relented and looked it up.
It turns out that “instantly” means happening at once or immediately, while “instantaneously” means, generally speaking, happening or exerted with no delay in relation to something else.
Two thoughts here: I think it’s valuable to think about questions such as this, perhaps even have an actual conversation about them, before immediately asking our all-knowing friend Mr. Google. And when you learn something new, it’s best to use it in a sentence as soon as you can to try to lock it into your brain cells.
I instantly knew I didn’t know her name.
Freebird came on the radio and he instantaneously ran into the ditch.
A few days later, I discovered that “torturous” and “tortuous” are two different words with completely different meanings. I realize it’s obvious they are different words; but I had just never thought about it and, upon reflection, could not think of a time that I had ever used “tortuous” in a sentence, at least not correctly.
“Torturous” means exactly what you would think – of, related to or causing torture. “Tortuous” means having or marked by repeated turns or bends. (Of course, an after-dinner speech or the lead paragraph of a corporate news release could be both.)
I shot out an email to the staff to share my vocabulary discovery, and within a few hours, someone had left that day’s edition of the New York Times in my chair with a front-page cutline circled: Skeletal remains found in an English parking lot, including a tortuously curved spine, were confirmed as those of Richard III.
I was instantly filled with joy, which occurred instantaneously as I read the cutline.