Sometimes just one word can alienate your listeners.
So I was having a conversation with a person. I don’t really know him, but he worked with a friend of mine. I do know that he’s a graduate student in a well-respected program. He’s working on his MA in English and eventually wants to teach college students. The conversation was proceding along in a friendly and cordial manner. I’m thinking, “This guy seems kind of cool. He’s clearly intelliegent and has a desire to help people with their writing.” Then he said, “I was working with someone on her paper. Her parents were from Mexico, but she was born here. It was clear, however, that she spoke English at school and Mexican at home.”
**insert record scratching sound followed by silence**
He continued talking, but I couldn’t pay attention to anything else that he was saying. All I kept thinking was, “Did he just say that she spoke ‘Mexican?’ Mexican?! WTF? Who the hell says, ‘spoke MEXICAN?!'”
Within the course of five minutes, I had a totally different opinion about this guy. I couldn’t help it. I hate it when people say, “spoke Mexican.” I hate that just as much as I hate it when people say, “spoke American.” If you say that, I instantly have an impression of you, and I must say that it is negative.
I guess that the point of this post as it relates to writing is to show that just one word can build a character. A guy who says that a person “spoke Mexican” is a very different guy than one who says “spoke Spanish.” It is up to you to decide how you want to paint a character, and just using one particular word can really do the job.