Cooking with Words

August 19, 2018 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , with 3 and 0


Words are a writer’s ingredients. We love words – obscure words, descriptive or emotional words, those sets that make up the language of a specialty. Creating a passage of the perfect words hits the poetic, emotional and dramatic sweet spot — it’s more satisfying than a perfectly risen soufflé. Those words are not always based on literal meaning; otherwise Oscar Wilde would never have written: “The curves of your lips rewrite history.”

I have always been taken with the vocabulary of cooking. This is probably because I can’t cook. Maybe I think if I learn that vocabulary I can wield it like an incantation and my split pea soup will magically look less frightening, smell inviting and even taste good. It hasn’t worked but culinary terms, as a set of words, continue to surprise me — they’re just so aggressive.

Macerate, whip, beat, truss, pulverize, grind, batter, beat, scald. Whoa! All this to get something beautiful, delicious and nutritious? It works for most cooks. No matter how I slice or dice, shred, mince or mash, it seldom works for me. Must be in how you understand the terms and in nuance of use. Culinary terms work just as well to describe a cage fight as they do with a recipe for Angel Food cake.

Jared didn’t blanch facing the mountain that was Killdeer Kilze. He’d whip this fight up – he had to – the kids hadn’t eaten in two days. Time to mince this guy and reduce his essence. Zest infused Jared’s system, juicing his blood as he minced the mountain’s nose with one lethal chop, shred his kneecap with another. Scalded by the roar of the drunken crowd he beat at the massive chest, macerating the ribs. Sliced, diced and filleted to perfection, Killdeer Kilze lay trussed like the appetizer he was. The kids would dine well tonight.

Cooking is a gentle, homey pursuit – though some of those chef shows can be down right bloody so maybe it’s the competitive aspect that accounts for the aggressive feel. These words aren’t really homonyms. They sound alike and are spelled alike but they don’t have different meanings. The difference is in the sense of the meaning.

Linguists and other learned folk call this fine distinction, Polysemy. It’s the distinction that good writers always make. It’s part of why poetry can rock your world. Seeking just the right words with just the right nuance can make a love scene monumental rather than simply sweet, or enfold the reader in the sight, smell and sound of a setting. It’s the choice and use of the right words that makes a story linger in the reader’s heart — something every writer wants.

I do wonder how our language developed to make this particular set of words work for such opposing concepts. Is there a conflicted warrior inside every woman? I don’t know but if I dig far enough I’m sure theories abound. And while I ponder this conundrum I do it…again. I fritter my time away on obscure concepts and my carefully mixed cornbread hits the cooling rack and bounces. It sounds like a hollow rock. Clearly, it takes more than knowing the right language to make a great cook. But it is knowing the right nuanced words that makes a great book.

Jenny

 

 

Author Bio
Author Bio
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new. I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching. Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
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With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new. I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching. Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
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  • Veronica Jorge says:

    Loved your post, Jenny! Seems like we both have ‘cooking’ on our minds these days. I especially liked, “It’s the choice and use of the right words that makes a story linger in the reader’s heart — something every writer wants.” And, “But it is knowing the right nuanced words that makes a great book.” Thanks for this continued reminder of how to improve our writing.

  • mariannehdonley says:

    Clearly, great minds think alike!

  • jenny jensen says:

    Thank you Veronica and Marianne. I like to think that Veronica and I are on the same wave, but I know she’s the better cook!

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