What is emended?

Word count: 261 words

Reading time: About a minute

If you increase your vocabulary you’ll not only help your reading, you’ll also make your writing more precise. Here is my word of the week, emended.

I speak a tiny bit of French, badly, so I always admire people who are able to use more than one language. But when these people can write complex, moving stories in a second language, my admiration turns to awe.

This is the judgement I hold of Bosnian-American writer Aleksander Hemon (pictured above). I have not yet read any of his books — The Lazarus Project is now on my list — but I have encountered his exquisitely written essays in the New Yorker.

When I checked out his Wikipedia entry, I learned that he was the author of “The Aquarium,” a heartbreaking New Yorker essay (published June 13, 2011). It is about the death of his one-year old daughter, from complications of a brain tumour, and I will never forget it.

And a more recent New Yorker story, “Mapping Home”  (published Dec. 5, 2011) — about his visit back to Sarajevo following the war — has given me my word of the week: emended. Here is the sentence: “The map of the city that I carried in my head had to be fundamentally emended.” Hemon was referring to the difficulty of recognizing neighbourhoods when so many buildings had collapsed or been shelled.

If I had written that sentence, I would surely have used the word amended, which means to remove the faults of, or to correct. But Hemon is being more precise here. Emended means to make scholarly corrections or improvements. The word dates back to 1400 from the Latin emendare, meaning to free from fault.

I don’t typically favour $2 words when 25-cent ones will do, but for Hemon’s well-educated audience, I think he made the right choice.

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