Posted by: Judy M. Goodman | May 2, 2013

Merynomy: A Cloud of Confusion

The more I read about Human Language, the more in love I am. During my brief flirtation with linguistics in college, probing the rich textures of syntax, semantics, and semiotics filled me with joy. Early primary school English text books brought forth giggles, like swarms of butterflies, at dangling images like being given a piece of cake by “the lady with pink icing on the corner.” At every step in between (and following) each acquired word has come with that particular anticipation of traditional and preternatural infusion; subtleties in meaning have toyed coquettishly with my fingertips as they dally with the keyboard.

Yes, keyboard. Despite many good arguments against composing on a keyboard, I keyboardpersist primarily because I cannot consistently read my own handwriting, especially during the white-hot frenzy of creation. My only regret is that it is far easier in keyboarding to stop the flow of pictures and ideas to buoy up various crumbling phrases, revel in those working far beyond their capacity, and to wonder at the way language propagates and develops. I also worry about how much influence new technologies will effect the creative process given that they are already moving further and further away from my needs as user.

As my control over my files and file systems is eroding, formatting features are moving away from the complete and easy system I came to know and love in WordPerfect before the giant techno-cannibal devoured it and tried to eviscerate it. Despite attempts to scuttle it, WordPerfect is still the only software that gives me an easy way look for code cdsurprises in a document. Why, you ask, does a creative writer needs to mess around with codes? When in pursuit of high velocity sentences, I can hit odd combinations of keys simultaneously, which often results in creating codes that disable, misformat text, and, generally, frustrate. With WordPerfect’s “reveal codes” function, I can take a stealth bombing run through the narrative, and demolish the offending code. While, most word-crunchers format columns so I have to work vertically to the end of the first column before creating the second one.In experimenting with other software, I’ve had to start from scratch to fix the problem – inputting to WordPerfect, of course! Oddly enough, WordPerfect still allows me to create parallel columns with block protect. So sue me. I work horizontally. But I guess the vast majority of programmers at the conglomerate think vertically and believe that everyone else does too.

Word-crunchers have moved from the author’s need toward business applications[2] so they could make room for creative writing software like Dramatica and NewNovelist. Such software maybe good for formatting a page and teaching structure, but you can find the standard formatting in Writer’s Market and at various places online. More important, when submitting to literary journals and contests, the writer has the responsibility to learn the preferred guidelines of the target venue. As for structure, I suppose one has to learn it somewhere.

Technology is invasive – not all bad, necessarily – but I’ve been increasingly concerned that dependency on software is potentially dangerous to the creative process.[3] Though I’m frequently reminded that an artificial brain cannot be programmed to act exactly like the human brain in language functions, they do keep trying. Nevertheless, there is comfort in knowing that it would be highly inconvenient to try to emulate certain of the language vagaries.

In “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meronymy,” a recent article on Visual Thesaurus, Lexicographer Orin Hargraves[1] analyzes the difference between meronymy: words a part-whole relationship: like calling a farm worker a “hand” or, in worst case scenario, a man a “tool,” and metonymy: using the name of an attribute or feature of something to stand for the thing itself: such as referring to a computer enthusiast or science buff a “geek,” He points out how difficult as it would be to code language use despite the straightforward two step process that happens autonomically when humans use meronymy, metonymy, or synecdoche which is similar to metonymy. The difference between metonymy and synecdoche (rhymes with “Schenectady”) is well illustrated in this excellent, very amusing High School English project.


Hargraves wrote:

  • It would be convenient to draw a solid line between [parts and attribute], but it turns out that we don’t really do this very effectively in our heads, thus making it harder to define a consistent division between the two for computational purposes. Studies have shown that when people are asked to list properties of objects, they do not distinguish between attributes and parts. One reason for this may be that part is a highly polysemous and high-frequency word in English. As a noun it consistently has more than a dozen senses in most dictionaries. By some counts it is the tenth most common noun in English, and it is the second-most common word appearing in definitions of nouns in one dictionary study. Finally, among the many definitions of feature and some of attribute, also both highly polysemous, you will often find a few instances of the word part.[4]

Perhaps a computer can be programmed to understand some subtleties and varieties of word meaning, but to create it? Thankfully, that’s highly unlikely. We human writers will always be the main component in the creation of literature . . . and I won’t be losing my soulmate in this lifetime.

1. Visual Thesaurus, Language Lounge, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meronymy” May 1, 2013.
Orin Hargraves is an independent lexicographer and contributor to numerous dictionaries published in the US, the UK, and Europe. He is also the author of Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions (Oxford), the definitive guide to British and American differences, and Slang Rules! (Merriam-Webster), a practical guide for English learners. In addition to writing the Language Lounge column, Orin also writes for the Macmillan Dictionary Blog.
2. Perhaps being directed at businesses, they assume all the typing is done by secretaries.
3. I’ve used a screenwriting in a film writing class and I might be convinced otherwise about using like technology because of a movie script has very unique and complicated formatting. Also one might also argue, unique problems in distribution.
5. “Metonymy & Senecdoche” by Brandon Tao, YouTube May 1, 2010.


  1. Thought provoking article, I agree with the sentiment for the most part. Technology is convenience but it is also capable of eroding the seeds of creativity if relied upon too much. A lesson for us all.

  2. Sorry for replying so late — life’s been very crowded (always the happiest challenge). Thank you, Alan, for your comment. You’ve given me an idea for a blog!

  3. Thank you for your suggestion. At this time, Jane Stories Press Foundation no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts or queries. However, we do offer several contests every year and publish an open call for an anthology every five years.

    We will, as per your suggestion, add a new link to our See Jane Write connecting readers to our website where they can learn more about all our publications, and not just our most recent anthology Jane’s Stories IV: Bridges and Borders.

    Thank you again,
    Judy Goodman
    Secretary, Jane’s Stories Press Foundation

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