Discussion #11: Taboo Words

Sorry for not getting here yesterday. Unexpected out-of- town visitors. I am not dropping the discussion on critique, but would really like to give Neil some time to do some writing, and techie things. So, today we are going to take a look at something referred to as taboo words.

Writing, and especially poetry, has to grab the reader’s attention. That means it needs to give a fresh look to whatever it addresses. A new perspective to that which is common, or universal. We accomplish that with the words we use. If the words have been used over and over again, the reader might move on before even finishing because “he’s heard it all before.” These worn out and over-used words might be defined as Taboo, meaning they should not be used, unless that can be accomplished in a new way, or with new and different meaning (how often does that happen?).

Both of the words tears and heart-broken, are taboo words. They’ve simply been over done. And maybe, if we refrain from using them in our poems, for a couple of hundred years, they might actually come back into fashion, for a short time. Other ways of saying taboo, for writers, are cliché, hackneyed, trite, or stereotypical descriptions. All of them point to a loss, or lack, of originality, ingenuity, and impact.

One of the questions I would pose for you today, would be about how you accomplish staying fresh and original. What things do you do that not only refresh your writing, but also refuel your sources? How do you feed your muse? Kick yourself in the butt, or get yourself moving and engaged in new and different ways?

I do that in several ways. Photography (strictly amateurish), reading, and by doing what I call active meditation, which is getting my hands busy while letting my mind float and drift. Writing is creative and that energy source must be refueled regularly. At the moment, I’m doodling, doing pen and ink images with lines and patterns. It may look like nonsense to other eyes, but it is about finding balance between dark and light, making connections by creating new pathways, and finding a sense of harmony and satisfaction. And all of those things fuel the source of my writing.

Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artists Way, suggests that to keep our creativity fresh and refueled, we should take ourselves out on an Artist’s Date, at least once a week. Taking time to give ourselves new experiences, gives us new images to play with and a search for new words to write about those experiences. What do you think of that idea? Do you regularly, or periodically, take yourself to new places, new shops, museums, movies etc.?

The reason I ask is because we all have lists of personal taboo words, as well. Words we might, or should refrain from using, ones we have used a bit too often. It is interesting to go back through ones own writing and check for those same old, same old words and strike them from use for a time. Refusing to use them, forces us to find new ways of saying whatever we choose to express.

These are just a few thoughts and suggestions for this week’s discussion. If there is anything else you would like to bring to the table, now is the time to do so.


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here: http://1sojournal.wordpress.com/ http://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/ http://claudetteellinger.wordpress.com/
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7 Responses to Discussion #11: Taboo Words

  1. pmwanken says:

    Wow…I haven’t been writing long enough to even realize there are words that are too trite, taboo, cliché or over-used to be included in my poetry. I will need to look back at some of my work to see if I notice a trend even in the short time I’ve been at this! (But perhaps I should skip over the whole month or two that all I was writing about were my tears and broken heart.) …and try to not be so hackneyed with future work.

    I see the use of taboo words as a separate topic from jump-starting my “muse” (which, I have to say, is a word that gets overused?? I actually try never to use the word.)

    So…on to the topic of getting a kick-start….I have felt, lately, that I’ve been out of a writing “groove.” I don’t know if it is just the change of season/schedule, or if my mini-vacation threw me off, or if it’s my “flat” emotional state of being. But I do feel I need some sort of a “re-start” to get me back on track. Like I have said (also probably too many times), I’ve not been doing this long enough to see the ebb and flow of writing seasons. I simply started writing and took off like I’d been shot out of a cannon. And, like most people who are shot out of a cannon, I didn’t fly very long before there was a thud. I feel a bit like I’ve “thudded” and am standing a bit dazed and confused, brushing the dust and soot off my clothing.

    I know I will keep writing. I just need to figure out balance. So…..is it my creativity that needs a boost? or do I just need to keep cleaning the soot off my eyeballs so I can see where I am going?


  2. anl4 says:

    You have raised such a good topic. I will have to think about it. And maybe make a list to find out the words I am over using.

    I try to stay “aware,” on my toes. Wake each morning alive and curious. Take my creative temperature, see where I am. Get out of myself, follow the ink line across the page. I have but to look out, and I am reminded the world is a wonderful place… the light is magic, always changing. Nothing is ever the same… I like to go somewhere, but I am already in paradise… I do take myself out on occasion, to new places, new films, and just take a hike…

    Sometimes to review past work, is where I find a creative kick in the ………… (probably a taboo word?)

    I like your discussion… some times just to find the words, and to put them into some kind of order is an accomplishment. I like to surprise myself, and make myself smile, since I never know what I will write…

  3. 1sojournal says:

    Paula, I started laughing the minute I read your response. I so remember being shot out of that cannon, then suddenly the whole world stopped and I was covered in dust, peering around and thinking, “Where am I and what the hell do I think I am doing?”

    I wasn’t aiming those taboo words at anyone in particular. I heard them in a writing class almost thirty years ago and was shocked into silence because I had been using both and quite frequently. It was a real eye-opener for me and my first huge step into what ‘fresh outlook’ was really all about.

    And you will continue to write, because the drive is there and you are good at it. I am on a bit of a hiatus myself. Keeping my toes in the water (once or twice a week), but spending time exploring another interest. Staying in contact with this group of people always helps.

    Annell, thanks. You sound snug as a bug in your world, and shamefully pleased and happy about that reality. Glad for you and the Red Shoes book is handsome and quite intriguing. Bet you are glad that is behind you, and congratulations on a job well done. I envy that light and air that surrounds you, you breathe in creativity with every intake. I actually do go back and check my poems every once in a while and always find some words that need a bit of ‘quickening’. It’s a good practice to get into.


    • pmwanken says:

      Oh, good….Elizabeth, I’m glad I’m not the only cannonball in the bunch! 😉

      As for feeling like you took aim at someone in particular re: the specific taboo words you mentioned? No…I didn’t feel like you were aiming at me. It just so happened that I have written for the past couple months about tears and heartache!

  4. Mike Patrick says:

    Sometimes it feels as if the only part of my writing I control is the editing. I know that’s not true, but it’s how it feels. A word, a sight or a smell starts shorting out my synapses and I struggle to type fast enough to keep up with whatever flops out. During that process, there is no control over the incidence of ‘taboo’ words.

    In my earliest writings, ‘moon’ and ‘June,’ and ‘love’ and ‘dove’ became end-of-line rhymes because I didn’t know any better. Now, today, there are poets reading these lines who could take those words, place them in a proper context and make them work in a poem. There are fresh ways to use any words.

    If someone could be found depraved enough to read my entire body of work, they might be able to say, “This guy uses ‘beauty’ too much, or ‘angry,’ or ‘crap,’” or any of fifty other words—but I can’t get my wife to read all my crap (oops), much less anyone else. I would be thrilled if I could get a thousand people to select a poem at random from my blog and read it. None of them would know which words I reuse enough to make them taboo. For most non-poet readers, what they consider a taboo would be profanity, an ethnic slur, or have something to do with sex.

    You, the people reading this now, are my primary readers, and I love every one of you, but you are not the readers I would prefer. You are the teachers and students I share a classroom with—to my betterment—but I want to write for the masses. Like each of you, I would like to write a poetry volume that sells a million copies—and there aren’t that many poets out there who can afford to buy books.

    To avoid words because they are overused is to write to critics, not the masses. Yes, I know, the reviews of those critics are what guide many of the masses in their buying habits, but each individual reads what is meaningful to him or her. The most disappointed I’ve ever been in movie theaters was when I went to movies the critics raved about.

    That should to get this discussion rolling. Let the feeding frenzy begin.


    p.s. Man, I hope this doesn’t make anyone angry (oops).

  5. Elizabeth, I beginning to learn what dead words are, however, I am not sure about taboo words. As for repetition of words or words I use often, I would have to go back and read some of my older poems and compare them with the more present ones. I am positive I have a tendency to overuse certain words, but none come to mind right now. I really try to avoid cliches and I can usually spot them in other poems. Hmm… now you have me wondering.


  6. neil reid says:

    My so so slow reply, but I like this topic (and wanna write… something).

    (Boring apology part: after a lovely three week vacation I’ve returned to a work place standing on its’ head, and not a happy head. Deep schedule changes. Not what goes well for me, a major change. Topsy-turvey and I’m far from resettled yet. So I’m hardly writing anything, anything at all.) Enough.

    I understand what you mean, “taboo” words. Mostly for me I watch the local flora and fauna in that way, within a single poem I mean. Although there are a few general words I’m shy to repeat, so common is their use.

    Most long standing common watch for me is to avoid even using the same word within a single poem, but rather find some other equivalent thus keep the images “fresh”. Except of course when I want to purposely create a rhythm of sorts (my small bending of my own rule). Also I’ve a taste for making new phrasings of common words, used in uncommon ways, or oft changing the usual “connective tissue” of phrasing by omitting them, ie. “storm” instead of “the storm” as crude example, which also personifies the object as well (resulting I think in a higher interest level and altering the meaning in subtle ways). Native Indian language does this too I think because they see more “life” within what we otherwise think of as inanimate. That deeply changes the meaning of common words to me.

    Love. That’s a word I usually avoid. My most beloved poet Wm. Stafford, if you read, hardly ever uses that word, yet the essence of the concept is so very present in how he writes. I only hope some day to be so capable that way.

    Like. You know, “her face was like a moon in my night”, and “like” is such an uninteresting, one step removed, way of relating two images. But I do use it sometimes (maybe just to be contrary to myself!), or sometimes again, repeatedly, for the rhythm it creates.

    Personal point-of-view taboo words. Just in general I don’t use what I deem “negative” words because I think the world is actually a positive creative expression, so these feel like a lie about how I see the world. Not that I don’t get upset or mad or sad – I do. However that’s when I think I’m failing to see the “truth” of life, and why would I want to spread that lie?

    Words I don’t understand, that aren’t of common language. These too I’ll tend to avoid. Not that I’m shy about dictionaries, but also I do dislike having to flip between poem and dictionary, and suspect many others would feel the same. However I am fond of using odd, less common, maybe even archaic definitions of common words (that’s just fun play to me). But this gets pretty personal doesn’t it? You’ll find little reference to Greek gods in my poems, yet I’m happy to play with contemporary scientific lexicon. That’s our current culture, even if not all generally of common knowledge. (So yea, I’m not all fair!)

    Good topic, and I’m just scratching at it here (playing catch up too). Bedtime now.


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