Words are a writer’s tools. In skilled hands they can inspire and stir passions and incite revolutions and bring down governments. They can flatter the powerful or crystallize the collective resentments of the powerless. They can be woven into tangled webs that mislead and manipulate. They can draw attention away from the issue and trap the unwary. Beware fine print!
By their own nature, they are imprecise. One single word can evoke a number of different feelings or associations, depending on the individual listener/ reader. I might think that being compared to a cat is a compliment. Others might see it as an insult.
An unskilled user can mangle and mash words, and jam them into a context they had never been in before. Or do I mean a poet? Gosh, I’m not sure. Genius or idiot? The line can be thin.
At worse they fall flat. A poor metaphor grates like a sliding door. And only those of us who have been irritated by a sliding door that squeaks and jams every time it gets used would appreciate that one, otherwise, that metaphor would grate like a ...
Words with the same linguistic root can take on vastly different meanings. And when they jump between languages the real fun starts! An “offense” (noun) in French is a mere insult, an affront (something the French are familiar with - and they have both insult and affront in their vocabulary, but clearly required another term with that meaning) but in English, an “offense” is cause for arrest (although something "offensive" may not be). The prefix “in” in French reverses the meaning of a word, but only does so when it feels like it in English. As my (French) mother found out when she got a funny look asking for “in-salted” butter!
“Dilettante” is another example. In Italian, it’s a compliment; it refers to one who is well read and very knowledgeable about a multitude of issues and topics. In English, it damns with faint praise. It suggests the person is a dabbler and not serious about anything. “Dilettante in furs” is particularly insulting (or do I mean insalting?) referring to a young woman of a privileged background who slums it for a while with a bunch of revolutionaries. Because, of course, a young woman would have absolutely no ideals or wish to explore worlds different from her own background, now would she? No, she’d just be passing time waiting for the rich husband to show up. And there's no equivalent term for a young man who passes time with revolutionaries.
My point is – I’m feeling like a dilettante at the moment. In both senses of the word (although without furs). Yes, I try to read widely across a number of fields. Arts, sciences, medicine, history.
But am I just a dabbler? I dabble in writing. I procrastinate. I have hardly written any fiction over the past few months, and suspect that I’m not up to the self discipline and rigour needed to see a project through. I go and read across my fields of interest rather than sit down and write.
How long can I get away with calling it “research” before I have to face the fact that I might just be a dilettante and not a serious writer? Or have I just insulted dilettantes?