Just another day to the old Romans. I learned that in the ancient Roman calendar each of the 12 months of the year had an ides. In March, May, July and October, the ides fell on the 15th day. In every other month, the ides fell on the 13th.
There was nothing sinister about that date until Shakespeare aggrandized it forever in his play Julius Caesar.
Which (speaking of Shakespeare) brings me to this comment: the following quotation has been getting a lot of tv air time.
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. " Macbeth (Act V, Sc. I)
CSI, the original, plays in reruns each night. I caught a bit of an episode the other night where Grissom, the head of the team, used the quote in reference to a dead woman's hand. Okay, he's erudite, knows his snakes, scorpions, and Shakespeare. That very same night I watched CSI NY and the medical examiner used the same quote in reference to a dead woman's hand. It stuck out like a purple, painfully swollen big toe (I'm trying not to use a cliche).
The writers of these shows probably don't watch prior episodes or read old scripts, and likely most viewers wouldn't care. (Or even notice?) This writer, who satisfies her morbid interests by watching bullets bore through brains, knives slice though muscles, and teeth get lodged in guts, DID notice.
So what does this have to do with my own writing? I'm even more conscious of re-using words and phrases and try to avoid repetition, but sometimes they sneak through. I'm not talking about "invisible" words like the, it, said, and so on, but special words that sound great used once, overdone if repeated. Take words like frisson or cynosure. The first time I read these words I had to look them up. They are perfect when placed right. But if used again in the same work it seems like lazy writing. I've read books by top-selling authors and have seen them fall into the repetition trap. Makes me cringe. Were they not edited?
Those words are the swollen big toes. They stand out, make readers stop and shake their heads, and lose what's called the fictive dream. There are lesser words that are often repeated and would sound fine in context but often appear too close together in unrelated sentences. Most readers probably don't, but I notice these.
My word processing program Word Perfect has a neat feature on one of its toolbars that searches both forward and backward for repeated words. If I'm not sure the last time I used the words slime or stinking I can easily check.
This--word repetition-- is another thing I'm looking for in my edit. So far I'm 0 for 0, but I'm only on page 55.
How can I know what I think, till I see what I say?
-- E.M. Forester