New Year, New Words

I’ve always been a sucker for unfamiliar words and a few have come to my attention recently. The Reader’s Digest used to advise that it pays to increase your word power, but what can we actually do with this unwieldy vocabulary? Do we collect it in pristine notebooks – a brand new one every year – to pore over and learn by heart, before returning it to the obscurity it richly deserves? Or do we use it to liven up our prose and sprinkle through our writing like stardust? Take for example: Horripilationgoosebumps. A word only a quiz lover should know.  It’s compounded from the Latin horrere – to stand on end and pilus – hair, to give us ‘hair standing on end’.  Strangely, although horripilation is almost onomatopoeic, goosebumps is much more descriptive of the condition. I know which I prefer. Tergiversateto change one’s loyalties. I dislike words I don’t know how to pronounce – is that a hard ‘g’ or a soft one? This one won’t be appearing in my writing anytime soon. But then I might just tergiversate. Abibliophobiathe fear of having nothing to read. As an inveterate cereal box reader and one who knows how to resuscitate anyone in an emergency because I’ve committed all the instructions to memory from the wall chart in the office kitchen while I’ve been waiting for the kettle to boil, this one strikes a particular chord. Though I’m struggling to shoehorn it into my WIP. If a reader doesn’t know what a specific word means, surely that word is useless? There are two schools of thought. Stephen King maintains that we shouldn’t be pretentious and use long, complicated or little-known words where plain, easy to understand ones will do the same job. I can see what he means, but this makes several assumptions: • Our readers don’t want to learn. • They will be held up by a difficult word, or one that they haven’t come across before, and  won’t want to go and look it up. • This obstacle will hold them up and take them out of the story. • They might be put off reading forever if we include too many. (I know a couple people like this. You probably do, too.) But it needn’t be an either/or. At the risk of alienating a few readers, use some unusual words. Don’t be too simplistic. Trust your readers. Some will want to know what a word means, its etymology, what you had for breakfast; others will pass it by. But I’m definitely with Stephen on the goosebumps.


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