Friday, July 08, 2005

More on 'Wannabes'

Cat's know nothing about gravity....

This is in answer to the comment on my post about wannabes a few days ago.

It doesn't bother me that he's put up the link to this blog because people will make up their own minds after reading both sides. In fact, I would rather people are able to look from his blog posts to mine in something related like this so that they can see both sides of the issue. I find the circle of communications that goes on over blogs and such rather fascinating, in fact, and I never expect accord. I'm sure there are a number of people who agree with him. That's not going to change the definitions that I found, or the way in which his use of the term provoked some people at FM.

But on this subject of 'wannabes' and definitions, I find it interesting to see someone deny common usage of a term as though we all live and speak strictly by Webster's dictionary. Last time I checked, English wasn't a dead language; it is still evolving and meanings change with the times. I find it very strange to see a writer ignoring the way in which a term -- when applied to others -- can be taken as an insult, as though he doesn't want to understand how language works. No number of dictionary definitions will change that reaction.

Writers should always be open to learning about language and how it is used in dialogue. Living by the dictionary and grammar books isn't always the right answer.

Being part of a large group of writers, I think I'm probably more aware of how different people interpret words than he is. I had the impression -- and this might be wrong -- that he's had this kind of trouble with written communications elsewhere on the Internet, and it might just be an inability to look outside his own definitions and decisions. Almost everyone I know has had some problem with misunderstood posts at one time or another, but most of us are willing to admit that we did not explain things clearly.

However, as I've said from the start, it's not going to matter what a person calls himself. In fact, the only real point of contention over 'wannabe' in my side came when he used the term at FM. A few of the members took exception -- especially when the statement was made in such a general way that it included people who are not 'wannabes' by anyone's definition. But, again, he pointed out to us that the fault was not in the original statement but in our interpretation of it.

Isn't that communications? Isn't the person making the statement the one charged with being certain the people on the other end will clearly understand what he's saying? And if the communications is not understood by a number of people, then the fault has to be in the communications.

Personally, I'd rather err on the side of politeness when addressing others who are working at becoming published writers. I do use the term to describe those people who occasionally wander into FM looking for someone to write up their great ideas for them. Those are the wannabes in my book -- the ones who want their names on the covers, but don't want to do the work. They'll sometimes talk about the great idea they have, which almost inevitably turns out to be some sort of clone of whatever happens to be the most popular movie or TV show at the time.

So there it is. We all make mistakes in communications and most of us admit to our part in the misunderstanding and try to clarify. Most of us are aware of how language changes and adapts to the times, and how the use of that language can affect others.

Most of us also use terms for ourselves that we would not apply to others, because we have our own definitions or humorous responses to those terms. What we say of ourselves is not always the things we should say about others, however. Most of us know the difference.


Nonny said...

I tend to agree. The term "wannabe" holds a negative connontation, at least in the circles I've been with. There are many things you can call yourself to indicate unpublished status, besides wannabe.

But hey, if someone wants to call themselves a wannabe, no skin off my back. *shrugs*

Linda said...

It's interesting that you should write this post. I wrote nearly the same thing in my personal journal yesterday.

David, my oldest son, took a class in linguistics this past quarter. He said it was really eye-opening because he learned one very important thing that helped him with his lyrics. I think his lesson is apropo to writers, too. The dictionary is a record of what words meant when the dictionary was written. But as language evolves, meanings change and they publish a new edition of the dictionary.

I think the mistake a person who looks only at the dictionary definition and doesn't understand why people react differently from what he says he intended has a huge problem to overcome when writing fiction. Fiction is about evoking emotion. If you don't understand what emotion your words will evoke, then how can you control your fiction so the reader gets what you intend? If you truly don't intend to insult people, then don't use the term "wannabe", with it's insulting connotation. Use "aspiring writer", which is what you keep saying that you mean. A writer must choose his words carefully. Those words are our tools.

Carter said...

If the person(s) you are addressing does not understand what you mean, then communication is not taking place. It takes two to communicate, and sometimes they have to compromise. A lot of words carry connotations beyond their strict dictionary meanings, and those words can be hurtful if used unwarily. I think writers should be more sensitive to the implications of the language they use than non-writers.

But that's just me, the non-wannabe aspiring writer.

Margaret said...

Words are a game in my family. My older sister collects etymology books and I read the "Word of the Day" emails mainly to see where the words came from as the ones I don't know are often ones I'd never have a use for.

However, this is interesting for me because of recent events over at Holly's blog. She reclassified the blogs she reads and included a category of "Pontificator." I was stunned and amazed to find myself (a junior philosopher) classified under something that brings up images of Plato and Socrates teaching on marble steps. However, either our reactions didn't come across the way we'd intended or someone reacted in a negative way and Holly decided to downgrade us to philosophers (still way cool if you ask me :D).

Words do have power. In my lifetime, I've been involved with many groups who have attempted to reclaim labels. I have a few friends who proudly proclaim they are dykes. Not lesbians, not gay women, but dykes. But, and here is the kicker, word reclaimation is something that can only occur on a personal level. My friends can call themselves dykes and get a zing of power, of having won. If they call someone else by the same term, they are perpetuating the negative term and abusing the recipient.

Words are delicate things, not to be used without careful consideration. Whatever you think you might intend, you only succeed if the recipient thinks so too.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, that guy doesn't give up, does he?

Cute cat pic, btw.

aspiring writer :)

(Maybe I should even leave the "aspiring" out; after all I have published some non-fiction essays.)

Vernieda said...

I found it very interesting that he dismissed slang dictionaries like that. Slang usage is important, because many times slang usage becomes common usage as you said.

And speaking for myself, "wannabe" has always had a negative connotation, no matter the reference. Sometimes it's slight, sometimes it's definitely perjorative, but it's always been negative and not just in relation to aspiring writers.

But if he wants to call himself a wannabe, we certainly can't stop him. I just find it a bit odd that he doesn't see the label as negative, whereas in every writer's forum or communitiy I've ever been a part of (that contains both aspiring and professional), it's always been viewed that way.