Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Fri, Jan 13 2006

If He's Told Us Once...

I don't make it over to Wonkette very often, but I happened to go by this afternoon and found that the blog linked to a site that's taking bets on several political moves, including the number of times certain phrases might be used in the upcoming State of the Union address.

Writers tend to be extremely conscious of how many times we use a word or phrase in a piece of work. We often take as much, or more, time to think about word rhythms and the way a group of words acts together as we do with the mechanics of placement. The flow and phrasing of words in a piece of writing can heighten a mood, slow a scene or even serve to underscore the general theme of a piece. When the reader takes in the words, he or she forms a relationship with the writer's words in a very subtle, but powerful, recognition of these things. It may not be so conscious that we stop reading and think about it, but it's there. And it's probably a large part of what makes many of us tend to favor certain authors over others.

Words heard in a speech are probably processed in different ways by a listener than by those read silently when curled up with a book on a rainy afternoon. Our listening brain may grab certain phrases the way one might grab food solids in a kitchen strainer. We might let the whole speech flow through, but we might filter most words and give more attention and weight to a few striking phrases. What we catch in that strainer depends depends a lot on our own background, experience and biases. And it also depends a lot on our previous perceptions of, and relationship to, the speaker.

I've always wondered if speech writers, and those who deliver speeches, pay much attention to how often a phrase is used in a speech. There are certain things that are better repeated in order to drive home a point. But other things are best said only once, so that they stand out from the rest of the speech and will be more likely to be remembered and repeated in the future. Some of these phrases are often more general terms that apply in many situations and will stand the test of time as future generations hear them. But some terms are very specific to their time. Though they may be powerful at first delivery they may be more easily misinterpreted and taken out of context as time goes on. The very clever twist in such words that gave them a first catching in our mind's "strainer" could also be what limits their ability to impress upon listeners the value of the ideas those words represent.

The farther we listeners get past any given speech, the less of that speech sticks in our mind. We tend to remember key words and phrases. The tough part is that the one giving the speech has no real power over what the rest of us do with those words and phrases. He or she may be serious and passionate about what they say. But while some words go on to inspire people for several generations other words will end up becoming ludricrous and pathetic. It all reminds me a bit of those hanging chads—tiny bits of things that became a powerful, but laughable, symbol of our inability to maintain the dignity and honor of voting in America.

posted at: 13:46 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Can We Talk to the Gecco Now?

I thought it was just me, but now I know I'm not the only one who felt uneasy after hearing the sound in recent Geico commercials. Eric of Fire Ant Gazette expressed his own misgivings earlier this week.

I rather liked the first voice they gave the little spokesgecco, but there is just something eerie with the current voice, including the accent. The whole thing makes me picture an aging lounge singer trying to do an imitation of Crocdile Dundee. I certainly don't want to see any voice talent go without work, but this was just not a good casting decision. If this is what the new gecco voice is, I'd rather the little guy would just keep silent and look wise.

posted at: 07:13 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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