Monday, October 12, 2015

Hacked to Death


C. Neuroticus Absolutus

I'm as much an up-to-date guy as I can be at my age. Even knowing how dynamic our American English is, the language of my juniors never ceases to amaze as well as alarm me. I no sooner learned the word, "emoticon", than a Japanese variation of the same word , "emoji," appeared on the horizon. The "ji" appears in the Japanese word kanji in reference to the Chinese writing system the Japanese adopted millennia ago. It means "character." Thus my assumption that emoji means emotional character, a great description of the happy face circle with its various mood transformations.
But I've strayed afield from the subject of my death. I was reading an article in the Writer's Digest publication Novel Writing, "Tips, & Techniques for Better Stories."Although not a novice writer, I'm always looking for always to improve my writing and the lure of articles vetted by Writer's Digest was too much to resist. After several days of part-time reading, I came across an article where the title ground me to a halt: "Characterizing Quick." As a promoter of righteous adverb usage, the word "quick" hit me like a bear scratching both claws on a slate blackboard. I would have used "quickly."
Then the sub-title, "Develop dynamic characters in no time with these 15 easy hacks." I am admittedly a newbie when it comes to this usage of "hack." I'd seen it before and from the context where it appeared, my supposition was that it meant "tip," as in hint. Seemed to work well enough. In this case, I paused for a moment before moving on. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, midway in the second paragraph, but another hack!
I immediately sought the advice of the online Urban Dictionary, which lists 14 definitions for "hack," but none solved my problem. When consulting Merriam-Webster, a 5-minute search found the following at the end of a list, obviously tacked on as though it were a new entry or an afterthought:  "an unusually creative solution to a computer hardware or programming problem or limitation." There was my hack! A solution!
But what was this qualification about computer hardware and programming? Were a bunch of backroom binary geeks attempting to scam us?
I continued to read the article and from the beginning, counted 4 uses of the word "hack." My experience and critics have taught me not to repeat words over and over. Perhaps the example I have highlighted here is a bit picky, but it stopped my reading and thoughts each time the word appeared. That's deadly if you're trying to build tension or convey a difficult point of view.
To summarize, I felt hacked to death by the time I got to the end of the article. I'll have to reread it someday to see what I missed the first time.