word choice and Bismarck


Btw this blog post by Ann Leckie is one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen about the importance of word choice. It’s good writing advice, a good perspective from which to rethink your sentences, adding better more descriptive words and discarding ones with unwanted connotations. Indirectly it’s also an explanation of why literary (or even just entertaining) translation is ridiculously complex: you’re not just translating the words, you also have to translate, or at least approximate, their connotations. And in order to do that, you have to understand those connotations. If a person runs, it matters whether they fut (almost neutral, usually at a steady speed), szalad (either happy and playful, or harried) or rohan (strongly emotive, often distraught, unless ironic.)

Note that word choice doesn’t just matter in literary writing, it also matters in reporting, in argumentation, any time when you want to convey information that’s not numbers, but especially when you want to convince someone of something. I’ve seen multiple posts on tumblr that made logical sense, but had recurring word choices that made the OP look like a raging asshole.


(Warning, probably garbled details.)

Bismarck used this to great effect, getting an article written about a dispute between France and Germany that was technically accurate in both translations, but the implications of the word choice led French readers to feel like the German Kaiser had insulted the French, and vice versa for German readers. So both groups felt that the other country had insulted their ruler while their ruler had been polite and respectful, simply because of the word choices in both languages. This led to a war between France and Germany.


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