Author Philippa Gregory on Writing

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Important Latin Words and Terms

Yesterday we talked about the value of the study of Latin. Today we give below some of the many Latin words and terms that all writers should know. These words and terms are seen written all around the world in almost all languages in all academic fields. Therefore, it’s important that all writers know them. They needn’t be learnt by heart, but it is a good idea to get familiarized with them as they are often seen written in different contexts in various media.

Most commonly used Latin words and expressions:

Ad hoc: to this. Something created for a specific purpose. Like an ad hoc committee.

Ad valorem: to the value. Something related to the value of another thing. For example, an ad valorem tax.

Affidavit: a sworn written statement. A legal statement.

Alibi: elsewhere. If a person has an alibi, it means he can prove he was elsewhere.

Bona fide: good faith. This mainly refers to contracts. To respect the contract, one must act in good faith.

De facto: common in practice. Something which is not established by law but is common in practice.  Like a de facto official language.

In toto: completely. Refers to something that is taken in its entirety. For example, taking a project in toto.

Modus operandi: a way of doing things. Mainly used when referring to a person’s way of doing things. Like  a thief’s modus operandi; that is, the way he goes about stealing.

Per se: by itself. When something is taken per se, it is taken by itself, without considering the external factors.

Prima facie: by first instance. This is used mainly in legal cases. If a case is prima facie, it means there is enough evidence to go forward with the indictment.

Pro bono: for the public good. If, for example, a lawyer works on a case pro bono, he works for the public good. In other words, he works for free.

Sic: thus. Sic is usually placed within brackets in front of incorrect word or words indicating that the words are not the writer’s.

Terra firma: solid earth. Being on terra firma refers to be being on firm ground rather than on sea.

Vice versa: the other way around. For example, if you say “he likes her and vice versa”, it means that she too likes him.

Vox populi: voice of the people. Refers to the general public, or the voice of the common man.

Which other Latin word or term do you think should also have been included here?

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The Value of the Study of Latin

When I had taken Latin as one of my subjects in high school, I hadn’t realized how helpful it would turn out to be. To be very honest, I didn’t really want to take it, but the only reason I studied it was because my English teacher had asked me to. She had explained the importance of Latin not only for the study of English, but for practically all fields of study. Today I am happy that I listened to her advice and can proudly say that I have had the privilege of studying Latin and have found the language to be of enduring value. What is this value?

They say Latin is a dead language, but if you ask me, it is an immortal language. It may not be spoken anywhere in the world, but it is still studied all over the world. Why? Because –

1. Latin is the root of most modern European languages, including English. Its study helps in the study of the English language. Generally, when we study English, we do so without really understanding the whys of the grammar. We speak and write English the way we do because we are told that this is the way we should, because that is the correct way. But why is it the correct way? This is what Latin teaches us – the rules and the reasons of grammar. Once we learn these, we get a better understanding of the English Language. Humorist Stephen Leacock once said, “People learn to write good English by writing bad Latin”.

2. Most English words have Latin derivatives. Therefore, the study of Latin gives us a better understanding of words, their meanings and uses. As a result of this better understanding, we acquire a wider vocabulary and can use the right word in the right manner.

3. In all fields of study and professions – whether science, law, or humanities – the technical words are in Latin. A good understanding of Latin gives us a better understanding of the technical terms. We, therefore, don’t have to struggle with the meanings of the terms and their uses.

4. It may easily be argued by some that if one is not going to enter a professional career, Latin is of no use. But here these people are wrong. According to experts, the discipline involved in the study of Latin is excellent mental exercise. It develops the human brain, and consequently increases the intelligence level in a person.

So, we can see how important the study of Latin is. It gives us a better understanding of all aspects of the English language, and as a result makes us better writers.

I’d love to hear from people who have studied Latin. How has it helped them get a better understanding of the English language? Has it helped them become better writers?

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Difference between Colloquialism and Slang

People often use the word colloquialism for slang, and slang for colloquialism. The reason for this is that quite often people take them to mean the same thing. Colloquialism and slang do overlap to a certain extent, but they are actually two distinct forms of language.

How do colloquialism and slang overlap? In other words, how are they alike? The answer to this is – they are both informal, and they are both spoken forms of language. Now one may ask if they are both informal and both spoken forms of the language, then how can they be different? Well, the difference is this –

Colloquial language is the informal language used by people in every day speech. Its form is distinct to certain people and lends them their identity. Colloquialism may be words, phrases, or complete aphorisms. For example:

Word – gonna

Phrase – what’s up?

Aphorism – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer

Slang, on the other hand, is more informal than colloquialism. It is used only by certain groups – like teenagers or people of certain professions.  For example:

Stinks – for “is bad”

Buzz off – for “go away”

Salad dodger – an obese person

Other differences are:

* Colloquialism is considered standard language, but slang is not

* Colloquialism is geographically restricted, whereas slang may be used in any culture or class of society

* Colloquialism enriches a language, while slang waters it down.

Do you know of any other difference between colloquialism and slang?

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Julia Quinn on Writing Humorous Dialogue

Author Julia Quinn talks about writing humorous dialogue.

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Why We Procrastinate

When I was last writing on procrastination, I realized that it was such a wide topic that it was not possible to cover everything in one post.  It was then that I had decided that I’d do few – each covering a different aspect. Today we’ll look at why writers procrastinate. I did a little research of my own and this is what I came up with:

1. There are days when we just don’t feel like writing. This was the main reason given for procrastination. According to these writers – You can’t force yourself to write. If there are times when you don’t feel like writing, it is best to leave it for later. Forcing yourself will never produce good results; it may even lead to frustration, which is even worse. These writers go on to say that in such cases, whenever they have left writing for later, the results have always been good. It’s as if their creativity rejuvenates during the resting period. (This reminds me of the comment by Mary Maddux to my previous post. She had said this exact same thing.)

2.  We don’t know enough on the topic. Some writers say that they procrastinate when they feel they don’t know enough on the topic. Leaving things for later gives them time to think, to check/recheck the material they have collected, or even to further research the topic. This happens mainly with writers who are perfectionists.

3. We don’t like what we write. Quite a few writers say that they put their writing off for later when they feel the quality of what they are producing is not good enough. They feel they can write much better than what they are writing now. This again is a sign of perfectionism – wanting their writing to be perfect.

4. We have other things on our mind. According to other writers, they leave their writing when they go through bad phases. That is, when they are under stress or tension due to some personal or work-related reason. They say it’s just not possible for them to write anything when they have so many other things on their minds. If they force themselves to, the results are not good. So, it’s best to leave the writing for the time when they are feeling better and their minds have cleared.

5. We’re too busy. A few writers procrastinate when they are busy with other things – personal or otherwise. They say that sometimes they just do not have the time and so have no choice but to leave the writing for later.

Do you procrastinate? Or does a writer that you know does? What is your, or his/her, reason for putting things off for later?

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Geoffrey Zimmerman’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

Author and screen writer Geoffrey Zimmerman shares some advice that he wishes someone had shared with him when he was first getting started in the business.

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