Do you ever avoid using certain words in your writing because you think readers might not know what they mean?
It's fun playing with new unusual words in your writing, not to trip readers up but to extend them - and you.
Readers can use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. A good dictionary is an invaluable resource. You can subscribe to online dictionaries that are constantly being updated.
Encouraging children to read, teaching them how to look up words in the dictionary and showing them how a thesaurus works all help create lifelong habits. It gives them a head start at school and through to higher education.
Two Dictionaries and a Thesaurus
Some years ago the presenter in a writing workshop I attended mentioned that:
In 1974, there were 475,000 words in common use in the English language
In 1995, that decreased to 215,000 commonly used words
In 2006, it was estimated to have reduced further to 90,000 words.
That’s scary. The older the dictionary, the more of these ‘lost’ words, or words that have fallen into misuse, will be available to us.
It's a great idea to use two good dictionaries, a modern one (hard copy or online) and an older one (such as the Oxford).
Learning new vocabulary is enriching and consciousness expanding. It makes us better readers and better writers. It’s fun playing with unusual words in your writing.
How Words Look
The shape of a word on a page can have an interesting effect on how readers visualise your story. Keep your readers on their toes with an oddly shaped word now and then. Don’t overdo it, because the writing may become tedious.
The sentences below use a few too many, but it’s all in the spirit of fun and playfulness.
lethologica – the inability to recall a precise word for something
Avoid lethologica in your writing by considering the following unusual words.
gongoozler: an idle spectator
The origin of this word is early 20th century. It referred to a person who idly watched activity on a canal. Before 1970 it was rarely used and it is thought to have come from the Lincolnshire words gawn and gooze meaning to stare or gape (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/gongoozler)
tarantism: an urge to overcome melancholy by dancing
Looking for the perfect turn of phrase to describe your character’s mood? Chances are good that a word for their exact disposition already exists. Is one of your characters a philosophunculist – one who pretends to know more than they do to impress others? Is your protagonist inclined to mulligrubs – bouts of depression or low spirits? Perhaps he is an aeolist, a pompous windy bore who pretends to have inspiration. I’m sure we’ve all met our share of aeolists.
If your descriptive passages are becoming too verbose, try incorporating some unusual descriptive terms. You can simplify your prose and expand upon your readers’ vocabulary – and your own!
How succinct, for instance, to say that:
your character is indulging in algerining, rather than saying he’s prowling around with the intent to commit a burglary
or that the audience at a controversial play exsibilates, lets out a collective hiss of disapproval
or that Mr Bumble in your period novel enjoys the art of oculoplania, letting his eyes wander while assessing a lady’s charms
and that while he is thus pleasantly occupied, he hears brontide in the distance, the low rumbling of distant thunder.
Similar to our philosophunculist is the ultracrepidarian, who speaks and offers opinions on matters beyond their knowledge. They may well have a tendency towards inaniloquence, speaking foolishly or being full of empty or idle talk.
Let’s hope they don’t end up experiencing a wanweird, an unhappy fate.
Have Fun Playing with Unusual Words in Your Writing was a collaboration between editors4you.com and Rhiannon Raphael, a former student of Bond University who undertook a 3-month internship with editors4you
Photo credit Edho Pratama Unsplash