Daily Archives: January 18, 2010

Buying the Right Word

*Before I get started, don’t forget to check out and enter the Word Wars Contest.*

On Saturday, DH took me shopping.  For the record, I hate shopping.  I would rather tweeze my arm pit hair than shop for clothes.  God was kind enough to give me the bottom half of an hour-glass figure.  He must have forgotten that squeezing such shapes into jeans is not Heaven on Earth.  Or maybe He did…

Finding the right pair of  jeans is like finding the right word in writing.  When it happens, it’s golden.  However, it should never be forced or we will end up with buyer’s remorse.

Now I’m a firm believer that buying a word out of the dictionary or thesaurus is dangerous, and I don’t advocate for it.  If I have to hunt a word down through the seven degrees of synonyms, it will be as apparant as the wrong cut of jeans–regardless of the price.

As an example, over Thanksgiving weekend we hung out with DH’s family.  We were talking about dogs (ie those who have them in their houses and those who despise the fact that they exist) and how bringing a beloved pet to a non dog-lover’s home is rude.

“I would never foist my dog on someone who doesn’t like them,” I said to my DH and both brothers-in-law.

In their defense, they were three sheets to the wind and it was 2:00 in the morning.  However, I got harangued for “making up” a word.  When I explained it’s meaning (to thrust or force upon) I was told in no uncertain terms to use “real words that everyone can understand.”

As writers, we sometimes fall into the trap of showing off.  We like to pontificate and end up sprinkling thesaurus words throughout our writing.  The end product is reader annoyance.  And too much reader annoyance equals a loss of interest.

I used foist because I’m comfortable with it.  I didn’t have to search the dictionary to define it, nor did I page through the thesaurus until I found a word that sounded cool.  I used it because the nuances were exactly what I wanted to convey. 

Had we taken away the sheets and the late hour, I’m sure my beloved three stooges could have used the context clues to understand my meaning. 

Context clues provide the basic structure for a word’s use.  Quite frankly, it’s how I increased my vocabulary.  As a child I read books that challenged me with unknown words.  Jules Verne being my favorite in the fourth grade.

I loved when writers bought sixty dollar words and eloquently slipped them in the middle of fifty cent phrases.  I could figure out the gist of the meaning with relative ease.  And if all else failed, there was always the dictionary.

What I hated were the million dollar words.  The ones writers culled from the seven degrees of synonyms to find.  And by million dollar words, I don’t necessarily mean big, bold and lyrical.  I mean words that are foreign to the writer and therefore lack the easy comfort of use.

Thrust Upon=Foist=Impose=Promulgate=Disseminate=Distribute=Bestow

“I would never bestow my dog on someone who doesn’t like them.”

Technically this could be correct, although it doesn’t quite capture the distaste the person would feel if I gave my dog to them.  Bestow has positive connotations.  Foist does not. 

Simple substitution with unfamiliar words doesn’t benefit the author or the reader.  When used improperly, it can cause confusion.  For readers in the know, it can cause frustration, irritation and ridicule. 

Words have too many nuances to be pulled off the rack like a pair of size five jeans.  By definition, they should fit.  However, it’s the style that counts.

What are some of your favorite sixty dollar words?  What are your least favorite million dollar words?  Do write to the “masses” or do you use words that stretch and challenge your readers?