Two-Dollar Words

Two-Dollar Word A.K.A. a big, fancy word see pretentious

See “pretentious.”

The phrase “two dollar word”* or “ten dollar word” (or “four dollar word” or “four bits word,” depending on where you’re from and how old you are) can have a couple of different connotations depending on how it’s used. The most common use is to mock the person who just spoke and imply that they are being pretentious, condescending, snooty, or just plain prissy:

            A: That seems awfully high.
            B: That’s the price. Y’all c’n try the next county over if’n ya like.
            A: I suppose I must acquiesce with your demands.
            C: Ack-we-ess?
            B: That’s one o’ them two dollar words.

With this simple phrase, character B has acknowledged and mocked A’s use of a fancy word (as well as the overall attitude). Since a large group of people likely to use two-dollar words are unlikely to know the phrase, it also becomes an inside joke (or dramatic irony) where the condescending character who often assumes he’s talking over the others’ heads may not even know he’s being made fun of (the tables are turned!).

Another underlying connotation is that the person saying the phrase can’t afford words as fancy as the other person is using, so it can be used as a commentary on a class divide or difference in education between people of contrasting economic classes (no $2 words intended).

My favorite use of the phrase is a less serious situation when it’s used as a joke. Basically, the person says it to imply that he or she is less educated than is actually true – often with a Southern or Appalachian accent since the phrase is more associated with those areas.

And, of course, since it’s associated with those areas, having a character use it is instant characterization. Not bad for two bucks!

*The hyphen probably should be used but often isn’t.


Characterization Through Dialogue

If you’re having trouble with characterization, you might want to check the dialogue. Even though real people don’t talk like book characters, dialogue is one of the fastest and most reliable ways to communicate what a character is like and where a character is from without going into a lot of detail. And the most important part of using dialogue for characterization is phrasing and word choice.

Do you say “sofa” or “couch”? Do you say “pop,” “soda,” or “coke”?

People from different areas use different words for the same objects. If your character’s supposed to be from California, having him/her say “pop” for a carbonated beverage is going to raise some questions in readers who know that “soda” is more common in California.

The same is true for idioms/colloquialisms (sayings). A person from an upper class New England family is unlikely to say, “He’s busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest.” If the character does, you’ve automatically thrown a curve ball into the story and have to explain that this character is not your typical rich kid from New England.

Ok. Use the right slang and sayings. That’s it, right?

Nope. In addition to region and class, word choice also varies by character. As a rule, men tend to speak more confidently or aggressively while women are more likely to try to soften their speech with words and phrases like, “if that’s ok,” “probably,” “seems,” etc. Of course, that’s a generalization, and this will definitely vary by culture and subculture. It will even vary from character to character within a culture.

But that’s the point. It should vary by character. Whatever the character is like – bold, hesitant, quiet, chatty, whatever – it should show in the dialogue.

That’s why messing up the dialogue can totally change the characterization. Using the wrong slang, the wrong saying, or the wrong words – any one of these can give an impression that you didn’t mean to give. Or it could fail to establish a character quirk that you wanted to highlight. Or undermine facts you’ve already laid out.

Characterization and dialogue go hand in hand (or foot in mouth, depending). If something’s wrong with one, it’s time to check the other.


Pressure: A Long-Term Investment

This has been a saying since at least 1972, and it’s generally used as a metaphor about becoming better under intense circumstances. I really hope it’s true.

One can hope. If it's true, does that mean that pressure is a girl's best friend?

If it’s true, does that mean that pressure is a girl’s best friend?


Pandemic Homophone Problems

All the errors in this list are basically puns, but the people using them don’t know that. Most likely, people who make these errors have only heard the originals (not read them) and approximated what they heard with words they knew. Or they heard it from someone else who’d already done that. This idea is one reason why the idea of learning language only by hearing and speaking it seems very dangerous to me.

I’m pretty sure that the only way I learned these phrases correctly is from reading all the time. What scares me is that so many people are using them incorrectly in writing now (especially online) that reading may not be enough to learn the correct way. I actually had a college professor tell me to use “irregardless” instead of “regardless” on a paper (that hurt).

17 Common Phrases You’ve Been Saying Wrong Your Whole Life

Posted on August 25 2015 at 13:09 pm: Oscar TrondheimAdministrator

1. One And The Same

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2. Give someone free rein

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3. On tenterhooks

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4. Exact revenge

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5. Hunger pangs

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6. Scapegoat

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7. Regardless

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8. Moot point

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9. Don’t take it for granted

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10. Nip it in the bud

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11. It’s a dog-eat-dog world

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12. I couldn’t care less

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13. Wreak havoc

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14. Tongue-in-cheek

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15. Beck and call

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16. For all intensive purposes

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17. Giving leeway

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