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Question: Do you ever use words that are not normally used?


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  • lynnmosher changed the title to Question: Do you ever use words that are not normally used?
39 minutes ago, William D'Andrea said:

   Could you please give us examples of words that are not normally used?

 

The words used in word-of-the-day emails, such as today's: celerity which means swiftness or speed. Or perorate which means to speak at length, to make a long usually grandiloquent speech. Or furphy, a false report, rumor.

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In an unconventional sort of way...

 

In every Toastmasters club around the world, a "Word of the Day" is announced near the beginning of the meeting (along with its definition). Like all roles, the choice rotates among the membership from meeting to meeting. It's optional, but the members are encouraged to find ways to use the word, sometime during the meeting, and a count is made as to who does, and how many times.

 

Some people pick long words, some choose words that will be new to most people, or words that are well known, but just not commonly used. I go for the last one when it's my turn to pick, and I get 'em from an interesting source.

 

With a little googling, you can find a word frequency list for the English language. It lists, in order of usage, the ten thousand most commonly used words. Now, if you look towards the end of that list, there are lots of interesting choices, even though we all know most of the first ten thousand. (Ten thousand! Let's all pat ourselves on the back for that one...)

 

Some words just seem show-offy, like unscrupulous, or appropriation. Some are simple but are toward the end because we just don't have a lot of opportunity to use them, like frog, or yarn.

 

But then there are words that seem to be there because we forget about them, but they're... refreshing: words like perch, ambush, or outrageous. They're common enough, and we'll all remember seeing them, but they're used infrequently enough to light up our writing. They're not so long as to be clearly pretentious, but they step away from the same-old-same-old, and invite us to find fresh new metaphors, which also charge up our words.

 

Anyway, not exactly the answer you may have been expecting, but they are, literally, words that are not normally used... 

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3 hours ago, lynnmosher said:

What I mean is, do you ever use words that others may have to look up?

I went to college to become an English teacher. I'm too lousy at grammar to be an English teacher, but I did take all those courses in how to teach. I know that it is best to have 2-3% of the writing to above-reading-level vocabulary. Preferably 2%, but scholarly if you go for 3%. 4% will make most people give up reading that piece. (Academic peer-review articles are usually 3-4%.)

 

I write MG, therefore my audience is third to fifth graders. I still remember what grade levels certain publications are, despite how the grade level has gone downhill, but now claimed to be much higher than it is. (i.e. Most newspapers are written at a 5th grade reading-level, albeit academics now claim it is a tenth grade level.)

 

So, much easier for me to come up with words the readers won't know yet. But it's more essential to determine if the readers need to know the word. If they don't, I let them decide if they want to look it up. If they do, I define the word in context.

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I use whatever word fits. Sometimes, though, during editing, I change words that might give a reader pause, because I don't want them to encounter a word that will throw them out of the story experience and head to the shelf for the dictionary. 

 

Edited to add: I have enough trouble with the names/words I have to use in the historicals to provide authenticity, I don't want to add to that.

Edited by Tommie Lyn
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All the time. Burgher, as in citizen. Cleave, as in stick together. Contusion as in bruise. Handed, as in assisted. Tautened as in getting tighter. Torque as in twist. Snuff as in to smell. The list goes on. 

I write for those with a rich vocabulary, or who want one. I work hard to choose the most specific word and I want to build a community of readers who show appreciation for that with a well worn dictionary. 

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I generally avoid using words that the average reader would have to look up. I find it tends to break the mood or atmosphere of the story I'm trying to create. I'm actually more likely to use longer/more unusual words in my day-to-day speech than in fiction writing. But every now and then, I'll use a word I think is common and a beta reader or somebody will mention they had to look it up. "Pantomime" for instance. Or "spigot."

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I think I do every now and then (or sometimes...you choose hehe), mostly because I've picked up those words from other books that I've read. Then I have to realize that I'm writing for other teens and that a lot of them won't understand the words I use...LOL!

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I was curious what everyone thought. To me, I don't mind having to look up a word or even two. However, I don't like using unusual words that others may not know for my devotionals and stories because I feel it throws a stumbling block in the way. Now, if you use an unknown word, yet manage to incorporate the meaning, that's a different matter. 😉

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22 minutes ago, lynnmosher said:

Now, if you use an unknown word, yet manage to incorporate the meaning, that's a different matter. 😉

I agree. If the reader can get the gist of what they're reading, it's not bad to introduce words they may not be familiar with...in non-fiction. However, when I'm reading fiction, when I'm immersed in the "fictive dream" of another writer, if a word demands that I look it up, it throws me out of the dream...and that's a bad thing. I agree with the title of this blog: "John Gardner's Fictive Dream - Don’t wake the reader up or you’ll put them to sleep".

 

https://medium.com/graffitiliving/john-gardners-fictive-dream-84f64c2e16e4

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    I don't think I use any words that the average reader wouldn't know.  That is if I'm using English words.   I have written some stories that take place in Mexico, and I'm always careful with my use of Spanish.

    There was a time when I did a lot of traveling.  I spent many vacations in Mexico.  While I was there, I always carried a paperback copy of the Berlitz English/Spanish Dictionary with me.  I spent most of my times in tourist areas, where the local people who work in hotels, restaurants, shops, or who drive taxis or buses, know enough English so I was able to get along comfortably enough and avoid any serious difficulties.

    Now I have written stories that take place in Mexico, in which I have been careful about the use of Spanish words, that most American readers might not be familiar with.  I think that most of us would know words like "Senor", "Senora", Senorita"; or street signs like "Alto".

   Beyond that, I'm really not sure.  So when I have Mexican characters speaking to each other, I write "He said in Spanish" then I write his dialogue in English.

   In that way I make sure that the reader won't be putting down the book, to check out the words in a Berlitz Dictionary, which I doubt if he or she has one. 

Edited by William D'Andrea
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