Word Wednesday: Heritage vs. Lineage

Learning new words and being able to find the word that means exactly what the story needs can mean the difference between a mediocre story and a brilliant one.

On Wednesdays we will identify an unusual word, provide its definition, and discuss its application or its impact.

Time for another Word Wednesday!

Today I’m doing my civic duty—jury duty, to be exact. I look forward to sharing my adventures soon.

The words we’re reviewing today became a point of contention while I was writing “Redeeming the Demon’s Daughter.”

I chose to use “heritage” twice, and my husband questioned whether it was the right word in each case.

Here are the two original sentences:

  1. “My heritage did not help me either, for I was the daughter of Ravana, the demon who kidnapped their beloved king’s wife.”

  2. “Macchanu could not doubt the evidence of his own eyes, for Maiyarab taught him his heritage, taught him to worship and trust in gods.”

After consulting my handy-dandy dictionary and deciding what made more sense, I changed the first sentence to use “lineage” but kept the second sentence as it was.

So what’s the difference?

Heritage:

  1. Something handed down from the past, as a tradition

  2. Something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inheritance

  3. Something reserved for one

There’s another specific definition used in Law, but I won’t pretend to instruct about the application of a legal term.

Lineage:

  1. Lineal descent from an ancestor; ancestry or extraction

  2. the line of descendants of a particular ancestor; family

Why did I change Sentence 1?

In the first sentence, Suvi is specifically referring to her father and to her ancestry as a demon. While I also meant her cultural background as a mermaid and a demon, the real meaning I want to convey hinges on her bloodline. So given these definitions, “lineage” describes it better.

Final sentence:

“My lineage did not help me either, for I was the daughter of Ravana, the demon who kidnapped their beloved king’s wife.”

Why didn’t I change Sentence 2?

In this case, Suvi is describing not just her son Macchanu’s parentage, but—more importantly—the cultural and religious aspects of his society and his role in it or obligations to it. So lineage would have changed the meaning of what I was trying to say.

Final sentence:

“Macchanu could not doubt the evidence of his own eyes, for Maiyarab taught him his heritage, taught him to worship and trust in gods.”

Word Wednesday: Less vs. Fewer

Learning new words and being able to find the word that means exactly what the story needs can mean the difference between a mediocre story and a brilliant one.

We recently started a new series within Word Wednesday of commonly confused words.

A reader reached out to me: “Could you do ‘less vs. fewer?’  I was quite pleased to see that Trop50 finally re-shot their commercial to have Jane Krakowski say, ‘50% fewer calories,’ instead of ‘50% less calories.’  But of course, now I have heard a new radio commercial from someone else using it incorrectly yet again.”

“Less” and “fewer” is an error bugs me, but I notice myself getting them mixed up in speaking though I know to catch it in writing.

So what’s the rule?

Simply put, it’s quality versus quantity.

“Less” is used in a general qualitative sense, but if you can count the items, you must use “fewer.”

Capitalizing on the Trop50 example, we’re going to stick with calories.

So I want to lose weight, which means—should I succeed—that I will weigh fewer pounds that I did before. I can count the pounds (all of them, unfortunately), therefore I must use “fewer.”

Similarly, if I want to eat less food, it is likely that I will ingest fewer calories. I can count the calories, but not the food.

Let’s take another example, that of a bank account. I might make a withdrawal to pay a bill. It is equally correct to state that I have less money in the bank than I did before, and that I have fewer dollars in the bank than before. In this case, money is a general term but the dollars can be counted.

Now, as with almost everything else in the English language, there are a few exceptions to this rule. But since she does it so well, I’ll send you over to read Grammar Girl.