I enjoy the challenge of getting a good photo of many things in nature. One of my minor interests is photos of trees, especially the trunks of trees and in particular those with interesting or arresting colours or patterns made by the bark.
The above eucalypt tree caught my eye while birding in a park near my home some time ago. The colours stunning the bark are quite special. When combined with the light and shadows cast by the sun, this is quite a noteworthy picture in my opinion.
While looking at it the idiom “barking up the wrong tree” came to mind. (For a definition of an idiom click here.) It’s an expression we use, especially here in South Australia, to indicate that we – or another person – is wrong, or misguided in some way. For example, if I was adamant that we had been to a certain restaurant on a certain date, and keep on insisting that this was correct only to find out I was wrong when later my wife produced proof that we were actually interstate on that day, I could be said to have been “barking up the wrong tree.” Plainly, I was wrong.
- Write a story about a time when you were completely wrong.
- Use the expression “barking up the wrong tree” in a short story.
- Have a character in your story use this expression – but incorrectly.
- Write a descriptive piece about how a dog chased a cat up a tree – but kept on barking at the wrong tree.
- Write an imaginative piece explaining how you think this expression was first used.
- Write a poem which is an ode to trees.
I heard someone use these words only a few days ago. They made me pause and consider them. Funny how those words had never before made me stop and think (well, not that I can remember). They were spoken as one of our many idioms, expressing surprise or irritation, the normal use and meaning of the expression.
What made me think, however, was the fact that this expression is something of an oxymoron, two words with contradictory meanings. When has grief ever been good? Although, I suppose in the sense that grieving leads to dealing with a loss and moving on with life it could be said to be good for you.
The point I am trying to make is that sometimes we use words in our writing which can convey the wrong ideas, communicating the wrong message to our readers. We need to be careful in the ways we use words and expressions, especially idioms and slang. Of course, the use of idioms and slang, used with discretion, can enhance our portrayal of certain characters in our stories. Overused they can become tedious. Always make every word count and make each word or phrase earn its place in your story.
Interestingly, a web search with the term “good grief” turns up about five million results. At the top of the search I did was an Australian group called “Good Grief“, an organisation dedicated to assisting people dealing with trauma, grief, loss and change.
My message today: choose your words carefully.