Bad Advice Wednesday: Naming is Knowing

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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I always noticed it in student work, but you see it in the big-time books, too.  “He stood under a tree.”  My question as a reader is always: what kind of tree?  It’s a lot different standing under a white pine and a white ash.  Your feet are in needles in case one.  In case two, old leaves.  The woods are darker among pines, too.  If it’s a Douglas fir, you’re in the Pacific Northwest.  What’s the right tree for Tokyo?  For Kolkata?  For Brisbane?  For your town, as well.  A bird flies by.  What kind?  Gray Jay?  That tells us something too–those camp robbers like wild places, a bit of elevation.  A bug bit him.  A bug?  Not a mosquito?  Horsefly?  Blackfly?  Was it cloudy?  What kind?  I like the precision, I guess, but there’s something more, the names of things. And the names of things carry within them states of being, unstated inferences, geographies, even eras, also music, the rhythm of the particular, of a place.

So make a study, learn the names of things.  That’s a start.



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