Question. Which weighs more: one pound of feathers, or one pound of gold?
Answer. One pound of feathers weighs more, because gold is weighed in troy pounds. The one pound that is standard in the United States is only about 82% the weight of a troy pound.
Question. Which weighs more: one ounce of feathers, or one ounce of gold?
Answer: One ounce of gold weighs more, because a troy ounce weighs more than a standard ounce. A standard ounce weighs about 91% of a troy ounce. The reason for this disparity is that a troy pound is made up of twelve troy ounces, while a standard pound is made up of sixteen standard ounces.
You are wondering what this has to do with writing; I can hear you. The point I am hoping to make is that if you knew the answers to these questions, you owned two little pieces of knowledge of the world and the way it works. It doesn’t make sense to me, either, that precious metals are weighed differently from feathers, but they are, and knowing this affects in a small way the way one thinks about the world. Yes, it is a tiny, tiny bit of knowledge, but what is knowledge except the accumulation of many tiny bits of knowledge?
It is already generally accepted that good writing skills depend on good thinking skills. I would like to submit that good thinking skills are helped by a reasonable range of knowledge, and that the wider this range, the better the thinking, and consequently, the better the writing.
An oversimplified way of looking at this is to imagine you are giving someone directions to your house. If you know the names of the businesses and landmarks along the way, you can communicate better. Rather than, “Turn left at the pink building with the weird sign,” you can say, “There’s a pink building; it’s a fishing supply store. Turn left there.”
Now imagine what a difference increased knowledge has on helping you to think about much more complicated subjects, such as love, death, and what causes piss shiver.
It may never be of practical use for you to know that gold is weighed in troy ounces. Still, this little piece of knowlege might be combined in the future with some other tiny bit of knowledge, which I believe will make you a better thinker and therefore a better writer. Take an interest in widening your range of knowledge, whatever it might currently be. Watch Jeopardy! or read a Cecil Adams book. Ask someone to teach you something about his or her job. Read the chocolate FAQ or some other FAQ at faqs.org, and if you learn something good, pass it along, will you?