Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fun With Words

by Stephanie Black

When I was a teenager, I used to read the dictionary. Not cover to cover, of course. I liked to flip through the pages, find interesting words and sometimes write them down.

And anyone who is now snickering and muttering things about my teen social life is welcome to bonk himself or herself in the head with an Oxford Unabridged. Words are fun, and you never know when “innocuous” or “effervescent” might come in handy.

If nothing else, a stash of vocabulary words is useful on college admissions and scholarship-type tests, although the only word I distinctly recall from such a test is “hermetic.” In trying to figure out what the word meant, my brain called up not the dictionary, but that scene from Star Wars where the heroes are trapped in the garbage compactor room and Han Solo fires his blaster at the exit hatch, which causes laser energy to rebound all over the room. “I already tried that; it’s hermetically sealed!” an angry Luke hollers. Aha! Now I could pick the definition of hermetic. Another scan-tron bubble conquered. The problem, of course, is that Luke didn’t actually say “hermetically”; he said “magnetically”, but since one definition of “hermetic” is “airtight”, chances are I nailed that question. Woohoo! Whoever thought a screwy memory for dialogue could come in so handy?

But back to the dictionary. A little knowledge can be, as they say, a dangerous thing and my love for words led to a truly terrible phase in my writing development. I’ll call it the Sesquipedalian Phase.

This phase was defined by the motto: “Don’t use a small, clearly understood word if a large, obscure word will do.” Into my scenes, I would slip an occasional word like “deliquesce.” Why be comprehensible when it was so much fun to be snooty? Somehow it didn’t occur to me that most readers don’t like consulting a dictionary when they’re reading a novel, nor are they—outside of a Required Reading list—likely to stick with a writer who thinks words that belong in the board game “Balderdash” make for brilliant prose. After provoking raised eyebrows from my test-reader sister, I managed to mature out of this phase long before I got to the point of submitting anything to a publisher.

I’m sure my editor is grateful for that.

But I still think words are fun. Unfortunately, I’m not good at producing them under pressure. A few Christmases ago, we received a game where the players divide into teams, are assigned two random letters, and then compete to see which team can come up with the longest word beginning with the first designated letter and ending with the second. Say we get the letters E and T. I’ll be fumbling around, coming up with words like “eat”(that don’t even count, because the word has to be at least four letters long), and without breaking a sweat, my engineer-businessman-all-around-genius husband whips out “effervescent.”

It’s so unjust. He’s never even read the dictionary.


At 5/17/2006 12:05 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

Let’s hear it for

Sesquipedalian adj 1: given to the overuse of long words

deliquesce v 1: melt away in the process of decay

Now the question is who or what was deliquescing in your novel?

I am currently in the reading-blogs-instead-of-cleaning-the-bathroom phase. Is there a word for that?

At 5/17/2006 4:07 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

There's a word for everything, mean aunt! Maybe I can help. If you're not cleaning the bathroom because you're dreading work, the word is ergophobia or ponophobia. If, on the other hand, you're afraid of washing, the word is ablutophobia. Or is it running water you hope to avoid? (Potamophobia) Germs? (Misophobia) Finally if, as I suspect, you prefer reading Stephanie's delightful writing to doing almost anything else, there are TWO words that apply: smart woman.

At 5/17/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Sweebler said...

Mean Aunt, I am not nearly as knowledgeable as Kerry Blair, but my guess is the word you are looking for is "lazy." I know this because I am posting on this blog instead of cleaning my bathrooms. And lazy is the word I would use to describe me.

I am also praying that my husband doesn't come home before scouts because everything is a pit of dispair. But am I cleaning? No, I'm reading blogs.

At 5/18/2006 4:12 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

Sweebler--That's It! That is exactly the word I was looking for.

But I like Kerry Blair's take on it much better.


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