Sabahat Quadri Works


A Few of my Favorite Words

It’s been less than a week since the end of Ramzan and I’ve been able to eat and drink through daylight hours with complete freedom. I’m still waking up at 3.30 am, however, as hunger pangs hit me, a belated memory of a month of fasting. A regular fasting day starts just before sunrise, so our breakfast, or sehri as we call it, is normally an hour before, mostly to ensure that we get the time needed to drink bucket-loads of water before the sound of the azaan (call to prayer) (when I was working full-time, I’d rarely sleep after sehri, working through the whole day and falling asleep well before 10 pm. Now that I’m self-employed, I tend to nod off around 5.30 am and wake up again at 8. It’s been very disorienting, because I was sleeping later, and not getting more than 3-4 hours of sleep at one stretch). And the same thing happens at 7.30 pm, when we normally broke our fast with the sunset. I’m forgetting to drink water during the day, so accustomed have I become, in 29 short days, to going without. I have to think twice before I pick up an apple, checking my brain to see if it’s ‘allowed’.

This is despite a day of celebrating Eid (my Eid was shortened from the usual 3-day fest because of personal reasons), of visiting family and friends and gorging myself on the traditional sweet sawaiyan (vermicelli cooked in milk and served with roasted pistachios and almonds) or sheerkorma (peculiar to households from Hyderabad Deccan, this is basically the same as sawaiyan, but it’s more milk than vermicelli. Many of the older generation in my family actually drink it rather than eat it). It’s as if my consciousness acknowledged that Eid was an aberration, and in returning to a regular routine, picked right up from where it left off in Ramzan. I am not at all hungry at lunch, which drives my poor beleaguered husband (who can’t fast due to health reasons) insane. He hates eating alone, and he’s categorically told me that starving because of these new ‘habits’ of mine is not on the agenda.

So, I’m ‘re-learning’ to eat at normal times in a regular day.

It seems to me that habits aren’t all that hard to form—good or bad. It took less than a week for my internal clock to align itself to the very early morning wake-up call. It took just about a week for lunchtime hunger pangs to fade. By week two, I was sailing through the fasts, though the odd sleeping patterns were disturbing. I still get sleepy at 8 in the morning, even though I will have slept the night through.

Based on this, I figure, not counting Eid, I should be back to normal in a few more days. Why is it, then, that I can’t seem to break my writing habits? I had someone come back to me on a read of a short story of mine with highlights of the word ‘hence’ all over the place. Apparently, I really like that word. I remember when I was in college and I wrote ‘hence’ in a birthday card (no, I don’t remember my message, and yes, I was a nerd) to a friend who laughed mercilessly at my stuffy language. Granted, when it came to writing essays or working on collaborative projects, I was the one everyone turned to! But, yes, it’s a twenty-year habit that I haven’t grown out of.

The highlights on the story led me to examine my writing a little more closely and I’ve come to realize that it is, in fact, ridiculously formal and sometimes formulaic. I like, for instance, saying ‘in fact’, ‘needless to say’ and ‘ostensibly’ a lot—someone asked me once, who uses ‘ostensibly’ in regular conversation? Oh, and ‘it occurs to me’ and ‘apparently’ and ‘for instance’ and ‘therefore’ and ‘nevertheless’ and… Damn these habits.

I’m torn, though, between preserving my style, such as it is, and making my language more ‘reader-friendly’. What would that mean, really? Not a dumbing down of my language—I don’t believe that readers are stupid or turned off by old-fashioned words, as long as the writing isn’t too wordy. Maybe just bringing some variety into it? Finding a middle ground, perhaps, between too many ‘hences’ versus none at all?

Nevertheless (see how I used that here?), I have decided to make a conscious effort to write something that doesn’t include these words or phrases at all. I’ll try it for a whole week and see if I can break the habit of stuffy language and predictable word patterns. Maybe I need to break my writing down before I can build it up again. Maybe this is one phoenix that needs to rise regularly from its own ashes.

I won’t, however, be starting with this post. I’ll start next week. I promise.

9 responses to “A Few of my Favorite Words”

  1. Love this! Yes – we all have our pet words and phrases, don’t we?

    Like you, I tend to lean on “in fact.” In fact, (hehe!) I let myself splatter it all over my first drafts, then I pluck them all out when editing.

    Happy #mondayblogs to you! 🙂


    1. Natasha Avatar

      Happy #MondayBlogs to you too, Tui. Thank you for stopping by!

      I’m not much for editing blog posts, and until the ‘hence’ fiasco, it never occurred to me that I was so repetitive.

  2. Would never have guessed you’d be using HENCE a lot – I think it’s underused in my own writing and speaking. Time for a resurgence, methinks.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Lol! I just don’t know where I picked it up, but I am firmly a hence person. 🙂

    2. Natasha Avatar

      And I like ‘methinks’! Would that we all still spoke like this. I’ve already complained about the deterioration of language in a previous rant, I mean, post.

  3. An honest enjoyable post, Natasha. I’m also a fan of nevertheless, and have (thanks to extensive use of the thesaurus) learned to vary it with however, yet, nonetheless etc., etc.
    I found running my writing through a free online editing tool called Pro Writing Aid (free to join – and will get you 3000 words analyzed at a go) has been invaluable in weeding out repeated phrases, and various other idiosyncrasies I’m blissfully unaware of sprinkled throughout my writing! I’ve also found regular blogging has made my writing voice less formal – these days I wouldn’t dream of using ‘thus’!

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Thus! Haven’t used that in a while. Thank you, especially for the Pro Writing Aid tip. I will use it to analyse my next book.

      Though I don’t use as much stuffy language in books – it doesn’t work well in popular fiction. 🙂 It’s more in my blog posts.

  4. I am, in fact, a person who has had to write for a variety of audiences. For instance, in graduate school, my language was very formal. My dissertation is full of words like “mythopoeic” and “hermeneutic.” Needless to say when it came time to communicate with a different audience, my language had to change.

    During the ten years I was a technical writer for Ford Motor Company, abstracting the contents of Motor Trend and Ward’s Engine and Vehicle Technology Update, my vocabulary ostensibly changed. Apparently engineers have little tolerance for the mythopoeic. The very name “MacPherson Strut Suspension,” for instance, connoted for me a proud Scotsman wearing his kilt in the traditional manner, his ball bearings swinging in the breeze. Nevertheless, automotive abstracts were no place for a woman to play with her connotations.

    Enjoy your formal language, use it when it suits the purpose and the occasion, and not worry about what is said “in regular conversation” unless you are writing dialogue. If you find later that those words that repeat themselves by habit are not needed – are placeholders that connect your thoughts, not an essential element of your prose style, so what? That’s what drafting and revision are for.

    It occurs to me it would be fun to use as many of those words as possible in my comment. Hence I have made it so. Happy (belated) Eid.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Thank you, Paula! I’m stifling my laughter as I write this. What a great comment. I’m currently struggling with my next blog post, which will, as promised, be stuffy-language-free!

      Wish me luck.

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