Roger Cohen wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about Israel a couple of weeks ago. He began by quoting a novelist. The quote is perhaps the best commentary I’ve seen on the process of writing. He said:
“(Writing) is like reconstructing the whole of Paris from Lego bricks. It’s about three-quarters-of-a-million small decisions. It’s not about who will live and who will die and who will go to bed with whom. Those are the easy ones. It’s about choosing adjectives and adverbs and punctuation. These are molecular decisions that you have to take and nobody will appreciate, for the same reason that nobody ever pays attention to a single note in a symphony in a concert hall, except when the note is false. So you have to work very hard in order for your readers not to note a single false note. That is the business of three-quarters-of-a-million decisions.”
The English vocabulary is arguably the largest and richest of all languages. So, why are there so many concepts with no word at all?
In particular, why is there no word for grown up people who are in a relationship that includes both friendship and sex, but neither children nor marriage? ‘Friend’ is too broad. ‘Special friend’ is too cute. ‘Girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ is both inaccurate and insulting. ‘Mistress’ for woman … we won’t go there. The best one I’ve run into is my cousin Gamble’s term, ‘pelvic affiliate’, but that doesn’t really capture friendship.
I suspect that social inertia is involved … after all, such a relationship wouldn’t have been much discussed even thirty years ago. I’m tempted to make a new word up, since my story happens in 2050. I really need something to describe the relationship between my two protagonists, Joe Mayfield and Louise (Weezy) Napolitani. He’s 40, and she’s 36. The relationship built during my first novel, and, as Weezy thinks at one point, recalling a song lyric, “If it ain’t love, it ain’t bad.”
PS: This issue was neatly described by Professor Anne Curzan in a Teaching Company course called The Secret Life of Words. If you are a word mechanic, aka Writer, you will be made more capable by this wonderful dissection and explication of the enormous, colorful bag of tools we all use.