I wish to write an entry for a writing contest. The contest requires a piece of 2,000 words, and gives the following four themes or topics that I may choose to write on. But because English is not my mother tongue, I am having difficulty understanding the topics. The topics are:

The Meaning of Me
Paved or Unpaved Ways
Because This is What Matters, and
The Bravest Place on Earth.

I am particularly mystified by the second one, "Paved and Unpaved Ways." Please help me by explaining what you think these topic titles mean, and what you think they are asking for.

  • 4
    I think that these topics are intentionally vague and intended to elicit creative responses.
    – Daniel
    Jun 28, 2013 at 18:23
  • 2
    What Daniel says; and 2 and 4 are not idiomatic English. Roads and streets may be paved, but rarely ways; perhaps the easy way and the hard way are meant (cf. Matt. 7:13-14). And we have not described places as "brave" for three hundred years. Jun 28, 2013 at 19:05
  • 1
    Voting to close as POB. This OP has already asked the same question three times on ELU, and they've all been closed for the same reason. Jun 28, 2013 at 21:26
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: As annoying as that may be, I think "What does Paved and Unpaved Ways mean?" is a valid question for English learners. It's quite abstract, and I think it would be a bad precedent to close questions here when English learners get curious about abstract concepts. Close it (them?) as POB on ELU, but I think this question has its place here. "Opinion-based" would be more like: "Is this a good title for an essay contest?" or something along those lines.
    – J.R.
    Jun 28, 2013 at 21:30
  • @J.R.: Surely you will accept that "the paved/unpaved way" are not idiomatic usages in English. Any dictionary would allow OP to establish the literal meaning of "paved", and in that context it's hardly necessary for us to explain what "way" means. Nor do I think we really need to explain how "unpaved" relates to "paved", even on ELL. Anything else that might be said on the subject could just as well be arrived at by someone who knew nothing else at all about English. It's all just "creative thinking". Jun 28, 2013 at 21:42

2 Answers 2


Paved and Unpaved Ways? I'm reminded of Frost's famous poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

In other words, "paved and unpaved ways" could refer to a well-worn path and a way less taken, respectively. It's metaphorical.

The paved way is where most people go; it's the safe way. The unpaved way is where the trailblazers and risk-takers go. One might think of the "unpaved way" being taken by inventers, entrepreneurs, and others who take risks and "think outside the box."

Stoney and Daniel are correct in their comments: I'm not providing a standard definition; I'm giving a possible interpretation. You won't be disqualified from this contest because your essay doesn't address the topic in the right way. I'd even guess that a unique interpretation that catches the judges by surprise might count in your favor.

As for the others:

  • The word meaning has two meanings, so the first one could be interpreted as The Definition of ‘Me’, but I'm guessing most would interpret it as roughly What Defines Me

  • Because This is What Matters could mean something that is important to you, or something that should be important to all of mankind

  • The Bravest Place on Earth could refer to any geographic region whose people have shown strong mettle in the face of adversity.


One could also use paved in a more literal sense as a metaphor for an unnatural but often-used way, compared to unpaved or natural. One could extend that to mean a metaphor for the intellectual vs. the intuitive mind, or left and right brain, explain how metaphorical pavement is responsible for global pollution, and so on.

Oh, the thinks you can think! -Dr. Seuss

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