Always use familiar definitions

As I looked on, mother began to materialize around the edges of the copper vessel.

Did that confuse you? Baffle you? It’s a completely legitimate and accurate statement. Mother often appears when someone is making alcoholic beverages, and it has nothing to do with the personal habits of the woman who brought you into this world.

“Mother” is the distiller’s term for the slime that forms on the surface of alcoholic beverages during fermentation. It’s an obscure term that you won’t find in most dictionaries, but I used it correctly here.

My point? Many words in the English language have multiple meanings. But when you use one of the more obscure meanings, you confuse your readers.

The sharpest writer I ever worked for drummed that into my head. I’d use a word and he’d cross it out. I’d defend my choice and he’d snap, “It’s the second definition. If you’re not using the first definition of a word, don’t use it!”

After all, had I written “I noticed that slime began to form around the edges of the pot,” you wouldn’t have needed an explanation of what I was trying to say.

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