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? Continue reading
On the news this week I heard a reporter refer to someone ‘traversing’ a road. Traversing? Whatever happened to ‘crossing’? Traversing implies a journey, possibly hazardous, negotiating the Yukon or the Andes, not a suburban road. Maybe he was taking the lunchtime traffic into account.
Still, it got me thinking about our use of language in creative writing and how selecting that inelegant synonym to avoid repetition, doesn’t always work.
Many years ago, my English teacher strove to instil in his class the beauty of words. He encouraged us to find and use words that we hadn’t heard before; words we had to look up in the dictionary. He would employ his red pen to great effect if any of us dared to use a lacklustre word such as nice. ‘Find another word!’ he would storm. ‘Find a better word. There’s plenty to choose from, use your imagination.’
Stephen King has something else to say on the subject: ‘One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.’
What they are both getting at is that there’s nothing wrong with short words, as long as they’re the best, most appropriate words for the occasion. Rather than use adjectives and adverbs, chose stronger verbs to reveal, to describe and to explain.