BY DAVID DONAHUE
It isn't always stated that good writing is not solely based on a good or extensive vocabulary, but is also based on how that vocabulary is linked together. This is better known as word choice. Proper word choice allows for a better flow.
Consider the following verse:
Rock bottom was never deep enough
For me it was filled with the sand and the scrubbed pines
Of the land of the stunted trees
An old drawbridge that was always raised
The safari zone lot and the pizza joints
That kept us occupied for days on end
What about that basement we used to squat
Or swimming around with the boss in Ashumet Pond
Can you get me back to the/those days that never last?
The difference in word choice in the last Line is subtle, but has some major implications.
Can you get me back to those days that never last?
Can you get me back to the days that never last?
Please note that this particular lyric will henceforth be referred to as the Line. Italicized words below are direct references to their in-verse incarnation.
It's a perfectionist obsession of mine to agonize over the smallest of word choices for their impact on the overall structure of a line. Here I am pinning the words the and those against one another to find which of the two creates a more resounding effect on the Line they find themselves competing for. What the two words have in common is their alliteration with that, only two words further down the Line, and that connection is important because it ingrains that first syllable in with the rest of the Line.
But it is the latter half of both words that causes the confusion: th-eh versus th-oh-sz. Neither of them truly connects with the rest of the line.
Th-eh (the, sometimes pronounced as th-ah or th-a-eh) ends with the soft vowel sound of -aeh and its closest rhyming matches in the Line are get, never, and with a stretch, that, all of which end in a consonant. Get and Never have soft consonants which can sometimes be dropped or simply ignored, such as through the pronunciations ge-ah-d, gu-ae-t, ne-vahw, nebv-ah, and neb-vaeh. That breaks down into th-ae-t, th-a-eht, and rarely the-at. Each pronunciation ends with a hard t.
Keep in mind these are all drawn out pronunciations to focus on how they may be pronounced in different incarnations. And also, it is because of differently pronounced words that give rise to slang and eventually new languages all together. Nevertheless, the analysis must be made here. Looking at the th-aeh pronunciation we can draw a line of similarity to gu-ae-t and neb-vaeh.
The -aeh finds a strong link in all three words, but yet there remains an issue. Gu-ae-t has the gu- that pushes out and forces past the aeh such that we arrive at the -d or -t sooner than the end of th-aeh.
This isn't the case with neb-vaeh or nebv-ah whose final consonant is very much dropped in spoken language. At most you will hear it as n-ehv-ahr or n-ehv-ehr with a near-silent h added to soften the stress on the final syllable. Notice how the b is not present in these pronunciations. Rather, it is replaced with another near-silent h. In an extreme case, one might find a strong f such that the pronunciation becomes nehv-faeh.
Despite the stretch of the syllable structure, the findings are hard to look past. Each of the incarnations of never: neb-vaeh, nebv-ah, n-ehv-ahr, n-ehv-ehr- and nehv-faeh end with a final sound very much similar to th-aeh and therefore we can conclude that the two words are near-enough of a rhyme to be acceptable for the line.
But how about those? Broken down, the word becomes th-oh-sz or th-oh-shz or in some cases, th-ho-sz. The o is present in each iteration. If included, this would be the only instance of o in the line and because of it being the only instance, there is no vowel-linking to other syllables in the Line. It is an orphan. It is a dissident. It could almost be unnatural.
And yet it isn't. The level of stress applied to the o is the same level of stress applied to the ee sound in me. This is important because it provides balance for the remaining excess stress in the Line such as for can, days, and last. The and its family of iterations do not match the vocal stress level, and the lack of a match could be viewed either positively, negatively, or neutrally affecting the line. It is difficult to determine the difference in the effect.
-shz is a whole other matter. This piece does have a match in days in the form of consonance. Consonance is a term for the matching of syllable stress and can be found anywhere in the course of saying a series of words; Rhyme and Alliteration are special forms of Consonance.
Days can be broken down to d-ay-sz, d-ay-ehshz, or da-aey-z. I am leaning towards the second breakdown because when compared directly with those (as either th-oh-shz or th-oh-sz) there is a noticeable difference in how long the word is announced. By this I mean to say that it takes longer to say days than it does to say those, especially in the context of the Line. And it is because of this minute difference that casts doubt on the use of the word. The spoken length of a word means a great deal for its attraction. However, The is even shorter.
The flow between words is immensely important. Those and the both have an appreciable amount of flow for the Line. Their different syllable structures create an argument that weighs towards using the. However the debate does not end with syllable structure. I will stress one more difference between the words, and that is definition.
The is specifically ambiguous. It is specific enough to refer to a particular set of somethings, but also vague enough where the referred set could be endless or undefined. Days that never last is the referred set. With the, the days could be a type of day or a type of experience where that never last defines the experience. Being that the could signify a type of experience makes for a narrated yearning for an experience or excitement or emotion that may or may not be specifically remembered by the narrator.
Those is purely specific. The lyrics preceding the focused Line are filled with specific events. When put with days that never last, those makes days a very specific set of experiences and makes the yearning more of a want or need to relive those experiences and not just re-feel them. With this reasoning, those holds more weight in the Line because it directly ties it with the rest of the verse.
Those versus the. Which of the two truly holds more weight than the other for inclusion in the Line? With the, we find a consonance match with multiple words while those only has one match. Yet as far as definitions go, those generates a stronger connection with the rest of the verse. It is a very close draw. But because of the syllable structure of the and how it does agree with as many other syllables in the Line as I have shown, I must draw the conclusion that the is the better choice of the two words. The implications of even the smallest word choice come full-circle in these examples here, and while subtle, focusing on each minute subtlety is what will make the difference between a decent writer, and a terrific writer.