Friday, April 25, 2014

FRESH ON FRIDAY: In a Manner of Speaking

WHEN YOU GET TOGETHER with others to develop an idea, do you 'flush it out" or "flesh it out?"
   Although the proponents of each saying will argue passionately that theirs is the only correct way of putting it, both sayings are actually correct.
   To "flush" something out is to push it from hiding into the light of day, as in, "we sent the dogs into the thicket to flush the fox out."
   And to "flesh" something out is to put meat on the bones.
   But to proponents of "flesh it out," "flush it out" sounds vulgar. And to those who say "flush it out," "flesh it out" is simply macabre.
   Moreover, which one you use is generally a matter of where you were raised. When I worked in Detroit, "flush it out" was all I ever heard. But when I worked in New York City, "flesh it out" was the norm.
   To a writer, differences such as these are valuable, because they jump out at people who are not accustomed to hearing them, and identify the speaker as coming from a different place. And in an era in which television has homogenized all regional accents to the point where everyone sounds as if they are from California, that's a valuable tool.
   For instance, I have friends from New Hampshire who, in addition to still having a discernible regional accent, refer to a shopping cart as a "trolley." Older people in Georgia call every form of soft drink a "coke," whether it's a Coca Cola or not. And in the Midwest there is no such thing as a root-beer float; around there, it's called a "black cow."
   The list goes on. In downstate Illinois, where I'm from, when country people take a ride for no particular reason, they are "blowing off some stink." and when a woman wants to ask another woman if her baby will fuss if picked up, the question will be, "Does your baby make strange?" But I rarely use either of those sayings, as they make me hear banjo music. 
   Dialect can be difficult to write in, and accents are even more so. But by judiciously having one character use one of these sayings, and allowing another character to react accordingly, you can reflect regional differences without resorting to writing that sounds corn-pone or forced.

No comments:

Post a Comment