Dogs Don’t Respond to Big Words. That’s Good Writing Advice, Too.

From a story titled “Dog Verbs” from “The Writing Shed with Tommy Tomlinson”:

I’ve been telling people that I got the idea for my book DOGLAND* when I was sitting at home one night, watching a dog show, and wondered: Are those dogs happy?

*DOGLAND is the working title for the book. Not sure what the real title will be.

That story is true. But I found something not long ago that made me realize I was thinking about dogs even earlier than that.

It’s a tattered note I made probably 20 years ago when I was working up a writing seminar. One of the things I try to do as a writer is use short words—the kind of words most of us use when we talk. And one day it hit me that almost everything a dog does can be described in one-syllable words.

Bark, howl, yip, growl, pee, poop, drool, lick, jump, stretch, nap, doze, fetch, race, leap, shed, sniff, point, wag, chase, chew, slurp, pant, catch, gnaw. That’s 25 and and I’m sure we could come up with more.

Maybe it gets at something elemental about a dog that we have come to describe what a dog does in such short and simple ways. Or maybe it’s about us—we have spent so much time with dogs that we’ve figured out an economy of language to talk about them.

One of the big themes I’m trying to get at in the book is how people and dogs have bonded so deeply over the centuries. Part of it, I think, has something to do with language. Dogs learn to understand what we say and respond to it. (As opposed to cats, who appear to understand but definitely do not care.)

A dog trainer will tell you that it’s best to give a dog a name with one dominant syllable, so they can associate themselves with that sound. Commands also work better that way. Dogs don’t go for five-dollar words. That’s good writing advice, too.

Speak Your Mind