Word Play: Salad (Part 2)

simple saladWords are funny things. They are representative of shared concepts and objects, except that idea assumes a commonality that doesn’t really exist.

When I asked for what the word “salad” meant to people (Word Play: Salad (Part 1)), I was expecting a fascinating collection of cultures that would lead to an examination of climate, food sources, and how those influence words. It looks like that’s a post I’ll have to write some time without much seeding. The concept of different types of salads such as potato salad and tabbouleh, neither of which have the lettuce that was often considered a key component, came up only in passing.

Instead, I got a look at the psychology of salads and food.

People talked about childhood meanings that remain even long past the reality has changed, about the difference between accessory and main meal, and even how life partners might see this simple word in very different ways along with why, such as how people approach cooking as a chef or someone who doesn’t like to cook.

There were also emotional definitions that had little to do with the food and more to do with the time it takes, or whether they contain anything edible. Also, different types of salad became associated with specific people or places, from my memories of discovering chef salad in junior high to a couple memories of parents.

Many romances focus on miscommunication, so many that it seems implausible at times. But when a simple word like “salad” can have so many layers of emotion and expectation, even between people who have spent a good portion of their lives together, miscommunication seems more likely than communication.

So, to take a life track on this, do you remember to define the common words to avoid clashes of meaning?

And on the writing track, how can you take advantage of these sorts of supposedly common words to expose your character’s personality to the reader?

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4 Responses to Word Play: Salad (Part 2)

  1. Erin says:

    I don’t remember to define words, although I should. Goodness knows that one of the things that my husband has made clear to me is that math is about vocabulary (he likens it to learning a foreign language), and the most important part of a paper is the setting out of what terms mean within the paper.

    I’ll have to remember to think about that when I’m writing.

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      It’s one of the reasons readers fall into two camps:
      1) Read with dictionary in hand
      2) Expect author to provide context…and if it doesn’t happen often enough, author is dumped.

      LOL on the math. That’s one of the pieces we were working on before I had to drop that Coursera class to refocus my energy. Language is flexible, which is good, but can also lead to misunderstandings and trouble.

      • Erin says:

        I expect context but am willing to look up a word if the meaning is still in doubt. Guess that puts me in a bedroll firmly between the two camps. 😉

        • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

          As with everything, life is a spectrum. I find lack of context a serious weakness, but if I’m curious about the word itself rather than lacking comprehension within the story, I too will look it up.

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