Brave words

I’ve been thinking lately about the word “brave.”

A few weeks ago, I read a book called Drunk on Sports, written by my former Dallas Morning News co-worker Tim Cowlishaw. The book chronicles the role alcohol played in his life, how it nearly killed him, and Tim’s decision to stop drinking.

When I finished the book, I tweeted that it was “brave and funny.”

A week or two later, I discovered a blog written by a guy I knew in high school, in which he details his battle to lose weight — a difficult topic for men. I recommended it to friends on Facebook, describing it, too, as brave.

Then last week brought news of first responders and ordinary bystanders propelled into action in Boston and, a few days later, the deaths of firefighters in West, Texas, who rushed into a burning fertilizer plant.

I experienced a bout of writer’s remorse. Does it cheapen the word “brave,” I wondered, to use it to describe an act of writing that in no way endangers your life?

The dictionary suggests I’m on solid ground, defining brave as “showing courage” and noting that courage can be moral or mental strength in the face of danger, difficulty or fear. Baring a drinking or weight problem to the world would certainly qualify as difficult.

My late editing professor John Bremner, in his book Words on Words, draws a distinction between bravery as an innate quality and courage as a quality one hopes to summon when tested. In Dr. Bremner’s view, then, I misused the word “brave,” though not in the way I’d imagined.

Courage, I learned today, comes from the Latin root cor, which means heart.

I love words. Even when I get the wrong one.






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