Below is a part of her book on why, as a writer, you need to name things correctly.
The first test of naming is accuracy. Part of a writer’s job is to learn the exact names of things and to have more than a passing acquaintance with them. When we read an essay by Richard Selzer, we trust he is naming the surgical instruments correctly. In the same way, we trust Annie Dillard to know the difference between a beetle and a scorpion, and to describe their exoskeletons precisely. And when poet Mary Oliver writes “long-billed curlew,” we must be assured she does not mean “great horned owl.” Though the reader may not know the exact name for everything in a piece of writing, he nevertheless expects the writer to know.
Every world has its own vocabulary, even those worlds that might seem simple or mundane, and precise naming takes us deeper into the world being described. You probably cannot write a convincing story about a beauty salon, for instance, without knowing the difference between a tint and a dye, or between a set-and-style and a permanent wave. It might also help to know how long each procedure takes, and how much it costs. If you’re writing a story from the point of view of a high school biology teacher, you may need to know not only what your students are wearing but also how to properly prepare a slide and dissect a fetal pig, and how to fill out a midterm grade report.
Finding out the names of things, their histories and how they work often requires outside research. This applies to the writing of fiction and poetry as well as to nonfiction writing. In the midst of revising a short story about a girl who helps deliver a calf, I realized I knew almost nothing about the subject. I spent the next two days in the library, and the following day at a local farm interviewing a farmer. The best way to learn would have been to deliver a calf with my own hands, but it was winter and I had a deadline.
Before I sent the final version to my editor, I asked the farmer to read the description of the delivery. Other than an error in my use of the term freemartin, which I set about to correct, my description met the farmer’s standards. “Yes ma’am,” he said, “that’s just how it is, you got it right. That’s exactly how a calf is born, cord and all.” (A freemartin, for those of you who are wondering, is the female twin of a bull calf. I’ve been waiting three sentences to tell you. Aristotle was right. What a jot to find “the proper and special name of a thing.”)
I think that sums it up pretty nicely. Readers trust that a writer knows what they are talking about. If you can’t trust one thing, then how can you trust them to get all their other facts correct?
I have first hand knowledge of slaughtering pigs, which I will post about next. I was there, and it happened. It wasn’t a story that was relayed to me. Mr. Bondurant’s book is a novel based on a true story that is about his grandfather and grand uncles. Now, yes, I’m sure it is possible that Mr. Bondurant was told a story about slaughtering pigs, but if he didn’t have first hand experience with this situation, then his story is anecdotal and hearsay. My experience is first hand.