Posts tagged with "technique" - Faerye Net 2008-07-03T13:17:39+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Wordwatching 2008-07-03T13:17:39+00:00 2008-07-03T13:17:39+00:00 <p>A word doesn&#8217;t have to be new to get my attention. Today, I am appreciating the word for its own sake and the way it&#8217;s been used, observing the word in its natural habitat (in this case, the prose of Patrick O&#8217;Brian).</p> <blockquote> <p>The sky was still grey and it was impossible to say whether it was clear or covered with very high cloud; but the sea itself already had a nacreous light that belonged more to the day than the darkness, and this light was reflected in the great convexities of the topsails, giving them the lustre of grey pearls. (<em>Master and Commander</em>, Chapter 3)</p> </blockquote> <p>The estimable <a href="" target="links">Molly Gloss</a> recently used Patrick O&#8217;Brian&#8217;s prose as an exemplar in a craft talk about using long sentences as well as short. Her example, from <em>Desolation Island</em>, showed that his writing was well structured, clear and served the story and its emotional heft. Here we see that clarity; it&#8217;s designed for as much transparency as possible. There is a word here that I daresay most readers aren&#8217;t familiar with, but the (very long) sentence works around that.</p> <p>Our rare bird is, of course, <em>nacreous</eM>. French-speakers may have an unfair advantage in puzzling out its meaning: <em>nacre</em> is French for mother of pearl (and apparently is the specialized term for the substance in English). Thus something nacreous has the properties of mother of pearl, such as iridescence.</p> <p>So while O&#8217;Brian has used a word he knew to be slightly obscure, he has nested it into a context that allows the reader to approximate its meaning and carry on with the story. It is evidently a quality of light, and from its reflection on the sails he gives us the essential element, its pearlescence. This technique, adding a few expansive phrases and context clues around an uncommon word, is one O&#8217;Brian uses elsewhere to allow us to understand nautical terminology. It is part of his genius that in the heat of battle we don&#8217;t have to turn aside for a dictionary.</p>