Words and Voices

In my now-distant past as a camp counsellor, my default names for children were “Bud,” “Sweetie,” and “Kiddo.” Before you learn a kid’s name, when you’ve forgotten a kid’s name, or when the kid’s name is on the tip of your tongue but you don’t have time to say it because they’re waving scissors around right now, any one of these is better than “Hey, you.”

There is a point to this, I swear.

When I was biking to choir this evening, I saw a kid take a tumble on his skateboard. He was up pretty quickly, but his lip was quivering, so I slowed. What came out of my mouth was not “Bud,” “Kiddo,” or even “Hey, you,” but rather, “Hey, mate, are you ok?”

The kid was fine, but it drove home a certain point: it took me less than a week to lose whatever trace of a New Zealand accent I picked up. The words, it seems, stay longer.

I’d already noticed this. At work, a visitor commented excitedly on my use of the word “wee,” exclaiming, “Wow, you even use old-fashioned words, too!”

Smiling and nodding seemed easier than explaining I’d spent four months in a region of New Zealand mostly settled by Scots.

There are others, as well. I confused someone recently by talking about “judder bars” (speed bumps). “Chuck it over there” is just as likely to come out as “Toss it over there.” I still cross the “carpark,” not the “parking lot.”  Even in The Next One (which, remember, was written entirely in the southern hemisphere), I see words that make sense in context, but that I probably wouldn’t have chosen a year ago.

Equally interesting to me are the words that have fallen away. It is “laundry,” not “washing.” I take out the “garbage,” not the “rubbish.” Halloween will bring copious amounts of “candy,” not “lollies.”

And just to tie this rambling somewhat into writing, think about characterization and dialogue. Vocabulary and word choice can be used to show all sorts of things: age, background, social class. I think travelling helped me “hear” myself better—I still can’t hear what’s so unique about the Canadian “out and about,” but I’ll admit that “sure” and “sorry” sound different.  Being more aware of voice makes it easier to try new ones; given the way The Next Next One is shaping up, this could get especially interesting.

Anyway, that’s my musing for the day. Incidentally, I was also given a pretty awesome opportunity. I’ve written a guest post for Philippa Ballantine, author of The Books of the Order, The Shifted World series, and co-author of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. It should be up sometime tomorrow, or soon after. Check out her site (and books) here.


Posted on October 3, 2012, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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