I guess most of us have a visceral reaction to the use or misuse of certain words. The word that makes my skin crawl when it crops up in what I think is the wrong place is ‘piece’.
I can stomach a piece of cake. I can tolerate a piece of someone’s mind. I can ponder a piece of a puzzle. I can admire a piece of journalism. The context in which it causes me a problem is when someone, without commission, labels their poetry or writing as a ‘piece’.
It’s mostly middle-aged-to-elderly blokes who look a bit like the prosecutor in Making a Murderer at writing groups that do it. It’ll be his turn to read to the group and he’ll break away from eating his banana with a knife and say “here’s a piece I wrote when I was inspired by a dried flower arrangement in the foyer of my financial advisor.” He’ll clear his throat theatrically and then read us all six pages of it.
‘Piece’, in the context of creativity, is a label that is in the gift of the commissioner. A piece of journalism has been commissioned. A published piece of writing – a short story for example – has been through the hoops of discernment. A painting on a gallery wall, for the most part, has been given the once over by a curator. It’s a piece in the collection of another.
It’s a subtle thing, and it seems hardly worth writing about now I’ve got this far. Technically I’m wrong. Emotionally I can’t help but think I’m right. Maybe we all have an emotional grammar parked alongside technical grammar and maybe that’s what makes English so interesting. ‘Piece’, to me, implies the independent validation that waits for the fledgling writer when his poem about a dried flower arrangement in the foyer of a financial advisor’s office makes it into print.