[Media Meandry] Pedantic Word Choices

“The quote may be heard, but dialogue is overheard.[1]” Sentences like that, from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, offends me. The surrounding text clarifies its meaning, but to rely on such specific word choice to convey a specific lesson is the reason why I may never formally educate myself through a writing program. With media like this, I’ll skip through these offensive sections, learn what I can, then move onto the next media meandry.

This book is overall worth finishing, even if I’m fast-forward reading it now.

That sentence and other sections like it throughout the book remind me that I’ve been applying a similar self-censoring and self-filtering system of fast-forwarding, skipping, and otherwise cheat-coding my way through media that doesn’t respect my time. I would not have been able to finish Utena without skipping through the repetitious moments. I understand the repetition is symbolic, but I liked the show well enough, just not enough to rewatch the same 30+-second clips almost 39 times. I’ll skip through sentences and paragraphs of books where the writer didn’t prove to me that they were invested in me as a reader, which is funny because Clark brings that up later, but this applies more to what I read from 7 Habits, where Covey set an elaborate stage for a child’s tantrum, which… went nowhere. I also used the in-game cheat-codes to finish Celeste after getting frustrated with its platforming pedantry.

I still enjoy challenging media.

I just feel that we often give the benefit of the doubt more often than we should to the people that create art. I respect everything that exists, creatively and otherwise, and wouldn’t want any of these works to be destroyed, edited to cater my interests, or otherwise mauled. Clark wrote the best book he could about teaching writing. For me, it’s just not a book that I would return to that often, other than the photos I’ve taken along the way. I thought of keeping the book earlier on but now there’s enough about it that I have become disinterested in and couldn’t benefit from keeping around.

Let’s consider challenging media closer, though.

For a game like Celeste, for platformer purists or pedantics, it’s great. I’ve played through Celeste Classic at least three times now and it’s a beautiful game. Everything works as it should. You die when you make a mistake, not because the game is overly-technical. It is a challenging piece of media but it is not deceptively challenging. It is just hard enough to where you can die 200 times and know that it’s not because it’s cheap but because you don’t know how to accomplish it yet. The full version of Celeste starts off in much this same precise manner, then, throws pedantry at you.

Let’s translate that from videogame-ese to reader-ese.

The reading level of Celeste Classic begins at something that is easily accessible for anyone before picking up toward a comfortable balance of college-level and late-high school. Anyone with a decent understanding of the English language can understand it. They may need to refer to a dictionary now and then, but it’s never overly challenging. Celeste-Minus-Classic starts much the same way before eventually becoming Wall-Of-Dictionary-Words that must be cut through to be understood. That might be fun for the lexicographers, but that’s a deceptively-steep learning curve for the uninitiated, and when it feels like the words are picked at random, their value decreases.

This was a long way of saying that over-editing can be dangerous.

It’s alright to let the word “very” into your writing, because sometimes, rhythmically, it makes sense. Clark doesn’t advocate for that exactly, and in one section, he does write about making sure not to over-edit, but being pedantic about specific words is about the same thing. For me, the difference between “heard” and “overheard” is so minimal that it just comes across as rude. Should I secure my bookmark, consult my local dictionary and etymology guides to let their differences soak in fully before I continue reading? For some people, sure, because they’ve already illuminated so many other paths, but here, as with Utena, 7 Habits, and Celeste, no.

I know I’m guilty of this myself.

My first novel might seem to the non-technical reader to be full of extra words or pedantic words. I don’t think it’d be “The Dark Souls of” anything. I’ve never played a Dark Souls game but I’ve heard enough about how it balances gameplay difficulty with narrative and worldbuilding that I’ve had a cursory interest. I’m sure in previous years I would have scoffed at the difficulty. I am what you might call a Filthy Casual and I’m OK with that. I enjoy difficulty in videogames, but if I can have an easy time, I’m OK with that. My interest in videogames is more about their narratives and character development than the acquisition of motor skills, just like my interest in anime or movies isn’t studying camera angles or editing techniques.

What I consider pedantic could be industry jargon, however.

My first novel is filled with early-00s technical support jargon and concepts. Sammohini learns some troubleshooting best practices from her peers along with learning some life skills. Those troubleshooting skills might be the same as the pedantry I’ve found offensive in all these other media, so it’s difficult to say whether there’s any acceptable jargon in any media, really, because then we get into the audiences works are made for and how those works should be approached by outsiders. If Writing Tools was written for obedient writers in classrooms, then that’s not a textbook I can get much mileage from. If Celeste was designed for platform pedantics, then I can’t appreciate its nuances.

That doesn’t make them bad.

It’s reasonable to allow things to offend you, like jumps that seem unfair, scenes that drag, or overly pretentious sentences, just as long as you don’t take that offense too seriously.

Let that offensiveness wash over you as you finish the media and move on.

Quotes: [1] I hate to say this only because I’m probably guilty of this. Otherwise, something like this is just pretentious.
Sources: My personal and professional experiences.
Inspirations: I wanted to write this essay to summarize my thoughts of this book now that I’m over halfway done with less than 100 pages to go, and why I tend to drop other things so quickly. This turned into a big complaint piece but, hey, sometimes, you just gotta say that you don’t like certain aspects of things.
Related: Other Media Meandry essays.
Photo: Flippin’ off that sentence, like you know I do frequently…
Written On: 2020 January 10 [42 minutes, from 1:32am to 2:02am then from 2:08am to 2:20am while listening to some mediocre 2020 Albums.]
Last Edited: 2020 January 10 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]
My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.