Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pious to Arrogant

Developing character studies is a technique that writers use to hone their skills or to prepare for an upcoming work. Within the analysis of the character are many adjectives, words that communicate the outward appearance or the substance of the personality.

Some adjectives tell us how a person looks: The old man was as thin as the cane that supported his wobbly legs. Others tell us how a person sounds: Like a barker at a carnival with sharp, clear tones that penetrated the crowd.

It is when writers examine a character’s soul that we have to be particularly careful with the words we select. Connotations can change over time but all words convey specific meanings. A word may have several synonyms and they do not necessary all have the same basic definition.

For example, the word “religious” has several synonyms, including faithful and pious. One of the synonyms for “pious” is sanctimonious. A synonym for “sanctimonious” is smug. Among the synonyms for “smug” are self-righteous and arrogant.

The more I work with words, the more I understand why my editor insists that I be careful how I use them. Her caution applies to all of us, whether student, journalist or mystery author.

If we’re not careful, the path to “religion” can take a turn to “arrogant.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Drugs and TV

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. - Mark Twain

Twain’s words made me think of the direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs. This fairly recent phenomenon includes television commercials in which pharmaceutical companies attempt to convince me that only their drug will cure my ills. Whether I am too happy, too sad, too fat, too thin or just too un-drugged, there is a medicine out there that will fix me.

While the advertisements show me all the wonderful things that will result from my taking a particular drug, it is what the side effect list communicates that always catches my attention. Usually buried at the end of the ad, the list of side effects is rattled off like so many niggling details. One can almost hear the marketing people sighing with annoyance that federal law requires they include these pesky particulars.

Have you listened closely to the lists? Call me crazy but I would count “death” as a pretty serious side effect. The drug commercial that had “death” in its list was recently redone and the word “death” was removed.

Since death is no longer a side effect, I can only assume that the patients who died have miraculously been reborn. Therefore, wouldn’t it be more accurate to list both death and resurrection as side effects?

I make this sarcastic statement because I do not understand how a drug can be advertised on television and sold to the public if one of the known side effects is death. I also wonder how that side effect got removed from the list. I assume the drug company decided “death” was not something they wanted me to know about.

It may not sound like it, but I am a big fan of good drugs. The right medication applied in the correct way to a specific problem can be a miracle. Penicillin saved my life when I was a child. However, we must remember that drug companies do what they do to make money. That is the only job of any company.

The drug ads communicate on several levels. While the drug may be intended for good, we should take that list of side effects seriously. It doesn't make sense to demand that our doctors give us a pill that will kill us.