Weighing Words: That & Measurement

This week I completed a short story. It hovers at just under 3,000 words. Writing this one stretched me in new directions. I've been nervous about it because of the push, but overall it felt good to venture out into the weird again. 

Sometimes I need a little break between projects. When I don't feel like writing there's no real issue. I read, veg, watch movies, play video games, get out and about, whatever. When I do feel like writing, I need to challenge myself to switch things up.

Today, I'm combining a couple of my common strategies for palate-cleansing. I spent the early afternoon revising and now it should be obvious I've been working on a blog post. All of this is a long wind-up to get to the heart of what I want to talk about: words. 

I always try to pay close attention to words. I adore them and am always keen to learn more. Revising days always make me more aware of words and my relationship to them. When I'm not in the grip of the storytelling part, that need to get the pieces out onto the page, I feel more comfortable chewing over individual word choices.  

It also makes me painfully aware of those words I overuse.

My plan for this Category is to pick out one word I want to wrangle and one or more words I've fallen for.  

On the Naughty list:

That. 

Definitions from good old Merriam-Webster: 

1
a :  the person, thing, or idea indicated, mentioned, or understood from the situation b :  the time, action, or event specified c :  the kind or thing specified as follows d :  one or a group of the indicated kind 
3
a —used as a function word after and to indicate emphatic repetition of the idea expressed by a previous word or phrase b —used as a function word immediately before or after a word group consisting of a verbal auxiliary or a form of the verb be preceded by there or a personal pronoun subject to indicate emphatic repetition of the idea expressed by a previous verb or predicate noun or predicate adjective

Obviously, there's nothing inherently wrong with the word "that". The issue is that it appears way too often in my prose. See?  It's a function word, an emphatic, a repetition, and all too easy to abuse. I've tried to be conscious of it while I am drafting, but I still miss it too often for my liking. 

I've begun to dedicate one revision pass to it. I seek it out and then stop to decide if it needs to stay or go. Most of the time it can go. Eliminating the extra drag on the prose can only help. 

I'm afraid I'll go too far with it and overcorrect, but I suppose that's why multiple revisions are a good idea.  Heh.

On the Nice List:

This week my fancy has been caught by odd units of measurement. If you look them up you'll find hits at Wikipedia, Neatorama, Dictionary sites, and Word Nerd webpages. It's very easy to get lost down the rabbit hole, but it's a fun time so I don't regret anything.  

I'd like to share a couple of my favorites. The inaccuracies will be mine, of course. 

Millihelens

I'd not heard this one before. From what I can gather from some perfunctory searches is that some think it was coined by a mathematician, W.A.H. Rushton or the science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov. It is the unit of measure that describes the amount of beauty necessary to launch a single ship. 

Shout-outs to Homer and Christopher Marlowe are obligatory.  

I like the combination of lit-geekery and absurdity.  

Wheatons 

From Wikipedia: 

The Wheaton is a measurement of Twitter followers relative to celebrity Wil Wheaton. The measurement was standardized when Wil Wheaton achieved half a million Twitter followers, with the effect that Wil Wheaton now has 4 Wheatons himself. As few Twitter users have millions of followers, the milliwheaton (500 followers) is more commonly used.

I enjoy this, not because I have many Twitter followers, but because...well, Wil Wheaton is pretty awesome. And, yes, I'm one of his followers. 

Banana Equivalent Dose

This is how to explain the severity of radiation exposure to regular people (like me!). It is equivalent to the extra dose you would absorb by eating one banana (because bananas and lots of other organic material naturally contain a certain amount of radioactive isotopes). There's also math involved, but I hit my limit with the Wheaton entry. 

It's a pretty small amount.  

There are so many more, but I'll end with--- 

Beard-second

I'll just quote the Wikipedia entry again...because of reasons. And math.  

The beard-second is a unit of length inspired by the light-year, but used for extremely short distances such as those in integrated circuits. The beard-second is defined as the length an average beard grows in one second. Kemp Bennet Kolb defines the distance as exactly 100 angstroms, (i.e. 10 nanometers), as does Nordling and Österman's Physics Handbook.[10] However, Google Calculator supports the beard-second for unit conversions using the value 5 nm,i.e. half the value according to Kolb and Physics Handbook.

I don't really understand a lot of the nuance there, but damn, that's entertaining. 

It's this kind of thing that really makes me love people. Humans are marvelous and weird.  

Keep being awesome, everyone! And measure everything.