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  #1  
Old 07-23-2008, 11:10 AM
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Question Word choices

My fiction writers' group has been critiquing the novel manuscript of mine that some of you assisted with earlier this year: Con game question

The group members are sharp, and I frequently take their advice. But we've bumped into an issue of word choice. Now a writer doesn't have to take the shorter word over the longer or less familiar if the latter is *exactly* right. But I'm wondering. For instance, in a recent discussion, one group member objected to a career cop using the word "firing" to describe the act of arson: "The Arson Squad got a tip that the Wolves [a teenage gang] had been behind the firing of two abandoned houses that winter and spring."

I could use "burning," of course. But I think "firing" (in the sense of "setting fire to," which wouldn't work as I've phrased the speech above) is the sort of term a cop or firefighter, or lawyer, would use. What do you think?
.

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Old 07-23-2008, 11:12 AM
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In my opinion, the word people use in those circumstances is 'torching'. I've never heard 'firing' used that way.
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Old 07-23-2008, 11:17 AM
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Yeah, "torching" would be much better than "burning."

My memory throws up a snippet from "Points of Law" in a dictionary from my childhood, saying that "Arson, to be in the first degree, must occur at night, and the buildings fired must have been inhabited."
.
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Old 07-23-2008, 11:22 AM
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I hadn't heard the term 'firing' used for arson before. Since it was used in the context of the police, and if it is a term they use, then I would consider it appropriate. It also would depend on how it is used. Some writers, TV show, movies etc. used terms or phrases to add 'ambiance' if you will. Others seem to beat it to death to prove they are experts of the culture or such.
Just think back to say 'Shogun', how many people knew what a 'Shogun' was before. Do we change the term or keep it to add an element of the culture.
Tom
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Old 07-23-2008, 11:24 AM
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To my mind, the past tense of 'fire' applies to three kinds of events, hardening clay in a kiln, starting an engine (fired it up) or dismissing someone from a job. I have no idea why the past tense of fire does not seem to apply to burning something down. I tried googling 'fired' and found this:

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fired

which covers the legal definition of arson, but I couldn't find the past tense used in the explanation.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:00 PM
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Examples found

See this headline: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=940DE4DD153DE633A25752C1A9679D94669ED7CF

And this item:
http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v02/v02p177_Wainwright.html, at the start of paragraph 7: "Van der Lubbe admitted he had fired the building."

That noted, it may be a more specialized or old-fashioned usage than I thought. "Torching" is a lot more vivid.
.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:22 PM
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"Firing" sounds like it's from another era to me. I'd go with "Torching," too.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:43 PM
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Firing sounds *exactly* right. It's a much more interesting word that adds an authentic touch without resorting to cliche.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kerry View Post
In my opinion, the word people use in those circumstances is 'torching'. I've never heard 'firing' used that way.
I am with you on this one.

I've worked with arson investigators and not once have I heard them use the term "firing" when referring to an arson fire.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Benzadmiral View Post
From 1897, no wonder I've never heard it.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dee8go View Post
"Firing" sounds like it's from another era to me. I'd go with "Torching," too.
Yep.

Another era? The NYT link was to a headline dated 1897
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:03 PM
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Originally Posted by dynalow View Post
Yep.

Another era? The NYT link was to a headline dated 1897
My gosh. I didn't realize their archives went back that far!

And come to think of it, the dictionary I quoted from was quite old -- my mother said my father had given it to her before I was born. Since the cop in my story is about 45 years old, I think "firing" might well have passed its vogue before he was born.
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Last edited by Benzadmiral; 07-23-2008 at 01:11 PM.
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:03 PM
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torching sounds better.
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Benzadmiral View Post
My gosh. I didn't realize their archives went back that far!

And come to think of it, the dictionary I quoted from was quite old -- my mother said my father had given it to her before I was born. Since the cop in my story is about 45 years old, I think "firing" might well have passed its vogue before he was born.
I have read that expression used in the Eighteenth Century, but not too much as late as the Twentieth. I guess you should check the OED if you want the definitive answer.
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:14 PM
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I was going to check the OED but my copy's in the office.
My theory is that "to fire' meaning 'to burn' went out of vogue once 'to fire' meaning 'to dismiss an employee' came into vogue. But I'm completely at a loss to figure out how the meaning 'to dismiss an employee' ever arose from the verb 'fire'. Anybody have any clues?

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