The Just-Right Words

In one of the many aphorisms attributed to him, Mark Twain is supposed to have said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Re-reading some of Pat Conroy’s writing recently, I was struck again by how powerfully early influences can shape the way language sounds to our inner ears. Dipping back into a flow of language I’d learned by reading nearly every word Conroy had written was like slipping back into a comfortable old suit of clothes — and a lesson in the influences that shaped my taste to this day.

Once you’ve seen the lightning, the lightning bug is never the same.