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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles

Understanding a Word's Reference in Plain English Writing

A Word's Reference: A word's reference is the personal memories and experiences that the word calls up in the mind of each person when he sees it. These references ALWAYS give:
  • personal meaning,
  • emotional meaning,
  • memory meaning,
  • psychological meaning,
  • environmental meaning,
  • meanings not found in dictionaries; and
  • meanings found only and differently in each person's mind.
Grammar books often call a word's references its connotation, its suggested meaning. However, connotation usually means those feelings that have grown up around a word's use—especially through poetry and history—while reference usually means those personal feelings that have grown up around the word in the reader's mind.

Like a word's referents, those things outside the mind, a word's references, those memory meanings inside the mind, can be specific, concrete, and powerful—such as the memories and experiences that a word like "rattlesnake" might call up in your mind if you'd ever been bitten by one; or like the memories and experiences that the name "June" might call up, if that was the name of your very first girl; or like the word "heartburn," if you have ulcers.

Or these references can be general, abstract, and obscure. This usually happens when the things these words are "references to"—those they refer to—are themselves general, abstract, and vague.

For instance, what kind of personal memories and experiences do the general-abstract words, "a multifarious groups of competent technicians" call up in your mind? If you got any personal "reference" at all, it was probably a vague, nebulous, far-off, unclear sketch of something—you're not quite sure just what.

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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles