The Right Words
There’s a Neil Gaiman quote which is popular around the writing circles.
“Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”
Find the right word.
And then the next.
And then the next…
That’s where the “magic” of writing comes in, right? Wrong. That’s where the work of writing comes in.
Hard work is the magic.
In nonfiction, finding the right words are just as important as it is in fiction. And in STEM nonfiction, the importance and value of the précise and correct word rises exponentially. The right word can make or break the credibility of the piece. The wrong word can create confusion, misinformation, and spread inaccuracies.
The right word matters.
This month’s topic is Climate Change/Earth Science. While planning the Writing Tips & Resources post this month, I originally planned an optimistic post on the potential solutions to our environmental issues blossoming in some of our young minds. Kids working toward and demanding changes in their institutions and local environments. It’s promising.
But then I heard something last week that made me shelf the original touch-feely post. It was an unfortunate reminder of how important the right words are. One prominent politician making fun of another prominent politician with the classic jab of “global warming? (laugh, laugh, laugh)” as the second politician made a campaign announcement backdropped by snow and cold weather.
One of the most prominent choices of words gone astray has to be “global warming”. The fight against climate change would have been a whole lot better off if “global warming” was never introduced as the lead terminology. What’s hard now to get many to understand is that small changes, like the atmospheric warming over the Earth poles caused by a stark increase in CO2 build up, can cause big problems to the entire system.
The Earth is a system. Changes in portions of a system can resonate throughout the entire system. This is the so-called Butterfly Effect associated with chaos theory (which also suffered from a poor choice of words (A butterfly flaps its wings…) in early explanations of chaos theory). In the system then, even a relatively small increase in temperature can change the weather patterns thousands of miles away. It’s HARD to get people to accept this when they keep reverting to “global warming” mode while they’re standing knee-deep in record snowfall.
Save the Planet
Another problematic choice of words I feel has held back the efforts to promote and advance earth science is, “Save the Planet”. Barring catastrophic internal of external events, the planet will survive humans. Earth will be fine. It may look and act completely different, but it’ll still be here.
What we need to do is reframe the environmental argument in terms of saving ourselves and the flora & fauna currently inhabiting this planet. Reframe environmentalism in terms of long-term economic viability and make it something of value to everyone.
The Right Word
Words are powerful. They carry weight. The right word can forward a way of thought or a new idea while the wrong word can sink the ship before it leaves port. Choose words wisely. Find the right word with the best fit. Make it work for you and work for your ideas.
The world of STEM will appreciate your efforts.
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.
The O.O.L.F Files
The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month takes a look at earth science, climate science, and some ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Here are a couple of information packed sites from some heavy hitters on the climate front:
I found this article and Tweeted it out to my fellow STEM Tuesday team member, Patricia Newman, thinking she’d enjoy the article on laboratories working to reduce single-use plastics because of her fantastic book, PLASTICS AHOY!
- The unsustainable lab via BioTechniques
She liked it but one-upped me by Tweeting me this article about the potential use of plastic bags in cellphones.
Geodesy – I’ve been researching geodesy as a side topic to a story about satellite navigation I’m working on. It’s fascinating science!
(Geodesy definition and information from GIM International, “the independent and high-quality information online source for everything the global geomatics industry has to offer: news, articles, vacancies, company profiles, educators and an event calendar.”
And if you just can’t get enough geodesy in your current life, here is a PDF from N.O.A.A. of the 1985 reprint,