I love words. I keep a list of about three hundred favorites, the ones that draw a mental picture that involves taste and feel as much as sight and sound. I browse them when I’m editing my manuscript, sometimes for inspiration but just as often as a reminder that writing requires a vast collection of great words.
I’d love to compare the average person’s vocabulary (approx. 17,000 words) to a writer’s. I’ve read that Shakespeare used only 15,000 words in all of his plays while Milton used barely 8,000. The problem of course: How many words do you have to sort through to find those perfect 15,000 or 8,000? Because those two gentlemen are about as perfect as a writer can be.
I’m working on a mid-level draft for my current WIP. I’m just about done with the plotting and will begin wordsmithing in about a week.That’s where words come in. I used to be comfortable neologizing words that would fit my story, but have been disabused of that habit (not fully disabused because I just verbized the noun ‘neologism’). Now I stick to words other people invented.
Here are ten you can actually use in your writing without sounding stuffy:
- abecedirian–means what it says–a beginner.Rudimentary. The abc’s.
- bandog–a large and fierce chained dog. This one’s appealing mostly because I love dogs.
- caliginous–murky, dark. Say it aloud. It sounds good.
- carabinieri–Italian national police force. This has a strength, a foreign power that I’ll probably never get to use because my characters aren’t going to Italy. I might have to plot a trip.
- cobble, as in ‘cobble together’. Can’t you just see that 1700’s cobbler tap-tapping at your plan, creating a beautiful mental quilt from scraps of disparate ideas
- confluence–a flowing together a coming together of people. ‘A confluence of events’. Comes after you’ve cobbled for a while.
- concatenation–interlinked series. MS Excel users know this word. It’s how you cobble together clues and discover a confluence of events. I love problem solving in quirky original ways.
- dappled–mottled, spotted. A dappled meadow, or horse. I see the dancing spots of brilliant color
- deus ex machina–a powerful image of an unexpected problem-solver. I’ll get it into my writing eventually. So far, it’s sounded contrived.
- doppelganger–Alter ego. I know in my writer’s soul I can turn this ghostly double into a problem-solver.
You have to admit, these are cogent and pithy words. Let me know how you use them.
I write a lot about words. Here are some other articles:
- Beautiful Words
- Ten Favorite Words (Part I)
- Ten Favorite Words (Part II)
- Eight Favorite Words (Part III)
- Ten Favorite Geek Words (Part I)
- Ten Favorite Geek Words (Part II)
- Seven More Favorite Geek Words
I’m not the only one who writes about favorite words. Here are Yorick Reintjens’ 117 favorite words. Or Imgur’s list of 100.
Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education which you can find on Structured Learning (a collaborative publisher).
I wanted to follow this blog but when I tried to do so, all I found was a Twitter method. I don’t twitter. Sorry!
Hi Emilie–I hope it finally worked. Thanks for dropping by.
Hm-m-m. Now it says I’m following!
You know, I’ve never kept a list of individual words I personally like (not counting a dictionary), but it sounds like a great idea!
I didn’t used to have to–I just remembered them. Then Father Time got involved.
I love words and I love when I can find a way to easily use a more obscure word in regular conversation. That said, I tend to avoid them in writing — not because I don’t like them or because I don’t see value in them, but because as a reader I really get drawn out of the text by words I have to think too hard about (or worse: look up). So, I guess for me it has to have a balance, and if I choose a word that may be more obscure, I need to have a purpose within the story to make it worthwhile to do so.
You’re right, Rob. Yet, done well, I’ve seen it work for multitude of authors. Elizabeth George always includes a handful of high-value words. I haven’t always done it as well as she and my critique groups always tell me!
You might already know that the entire Hebrew Bible, what is often called The Old Testament, was written with only about 15,000 words. But the power of those words has touched mankind for thousands of years. Amazing, isn’t it, how much can be said when the words are carefully chosen?
I didn’t know that. I wonder how you count unique words in a manuscript. I could advertise my novel as “less words than the Old Testament’!