Georgia has a town named Hell
The Road to Hell
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In the years I’ve been dabbling with words my feelings have ranged from mountaintop highs—-like when receiving a pleasing comment from a reader—-to abject lows—-like when catching a scathing critique from a pompous dude with a sprinkling of the alphabet following his name.
So what’s with the PhD thing anyway? Piled Higher and Deeper, perhaps?
One example of the pleasing side of the craft took place at a book signing I was having for my award-winning, short-story collection: Stories along the Way. A woman approached the table where I was signing books and said she’d read the collection months earlier and was now busy rereading all the stories again. To my inquiry as to what she enjoyed most about the stories, she didn’t hesitate with an answer. “It was the vivid descriptions of the story settings,” she said. “With some it felt as if I were there and actually part of the story; with others it was a tingly feeling as if I were a fly on the wall watching the events unfold.”
Yes, such words are always pleasing.
On the not-so-pleasing side, the most scalding critique I have ever received came while a member of an online writers group. The List Mom asked any member with published credits to write about the difficulty encountered in getting their work accepted for publication.
Okay, easy task, as the difficulties I’d faced along the road toward publication were still fresh in mind. In writing this particular assignment, then, I used the words pits and hurdles in figurative language (making use of figures of speech in the metaphorical sense) for the difficulties encountered before my writing passed muster with various editors and publishers. There are other words for difficult paths, of course, but I chose not to use them as many have become clichés with overuse.
However, within twenty-four hours of posting my article, one of our members, a professor no less, condemned my word use.
He said, “Metaphor is a trope—-a turning, figurative. BUT that gives it no license to violate physics—-either Newtonian, Quantum, or for that matter Aristotelian.”
The professor went on to say that while the road might well be blocked by hurdles, as this would be possible to accomplish in the physical world, the only pits in the road would have to be peach pits or the like.
Hmm. What was going on with this dude, as nothing I’d ever posted to this group was written in “technical style?” You know, the boring intellectual stuff favored by professors. Even so, his admonishment gave me pause to seek another opinion on metaphor. I turned to Pinckert’s Practical Grammar. The author, Robert Pinckert, put it this way:
“Figures of speech are daring, imaginative expressions not meant to be taken literally. Metaphors are not only usable but invaluable. The wind did not stir, the barometer did not fall, the skies did not threaten, the moon did not climb—they only do so metaphorically.”
Hmm. Figures of speech, daring, imaginative, metaphor, and not to be taken literally. Sooo, maybe I wouldn’t have to study Newtonian, Quantum, or Aristotelian after all. Armed for rebuttal, I wrote my reply:
Could it be, professor, that Samuel F. Smith understood and agreed with Pinckert’s explanation of metaphor when he wrote “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” I believe so, as how else to explain his lines:
Let music swell the breeze
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake:
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
So, professor, I must respectfully decline your admonishment. And while it may be true that I do not possess your scholarly credentials, including the alphabet soup following your name, I do possess what we here in Georgia call “Walk-around sense.”
“What is this?” you might ask. Well, professor, it’s what separates us from blooming idiots.
In parting, think on this. Georgia has a town named Hell. It’s a small town, served by a single, unpaved road. Citizens of Hell have complained for years, demanding the road be paved. Each year politicians state it is their intention to pave the road, but it has not happened. As you might imagine, the citizens of Hell are mad as hell. But, because it would violate physics, you could never say, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”