It Occurred to Me

The Avon cosmetics company used to offer a cologne called Occur! I never tried it, so I don’t know if it had a pleasant fragrance. I can tell you, though, that the name was awful. (Not surprisingly, Avon no longer sells Occur! although you can still buy it through eBay.)

Occur is a weak word. I can’t imagine anyone putting an exclamation mark after occur. I would have called the fragrance Happen!

Well, no, I wouldn’t. What I really would have done was hire a consultant to come up with something better. Neither occur nor happen suggest that this cologne is the gateway to a romantic adventure.

Suggestion: Don’t use “occurred” when you’re writing about something dramatic or important.

Words carry not only denotations (dictionary meanings) and connotations (subtle shades of meaning) but feelings. I once had a friend who loved the word penultimate, which sounds like an emphatic form of ultimate. But that’s not the meaning. (Penultimate actually means “the next-to-the-last item in a list.” Isn’t language wonderful?)

I always get confused when I come across the word nonplussed. I either have to stop and look it up or sit there and try to remember what it means. (“Perplexed” or “confused,” in case you’re wondering too.) Why is that non there? I always figure that other people are as confused as I am, so it’s a word I never use.

Here’s my point: Choose words for their feelings as well as their meanings. If the meaning is right but the feeling is wrong, choose another word.

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