Got Vocabulary?

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I remember the first time I saw the word ‘apoplectic’ and wondering, what in the name of heaven is that?! What does it mean? Where did it come from?!

I was intrigued.

I saw it again, years later, in the Robert Jordan ‘Wheel of Time’ books. A lot. For such an uncommon word (I hadn’t seen it used again until I started WoT) it was used often – I want to say every other book but that is, no doubt, an exaggeration. Still – that’s the way it felt – like it was being used a lot.

Have you ever noticed patterns in the works of your favorite authors? Words that are used often and repeatedly throughout their works, almost as if they found something that they liked, something that rolled off the tongue in a certain, pleasurable way that amused and delighted so much they decided to share?

…what about in your own writing, mister or miss aspiring author?

Apoplectic, by the way, is an adjective. It means ‘of, relating to, or causing stroke’. It doesn’t get used much anymore. Heck, Wikipedia redirect a search for it to ‘apoplexy’, calling it an out-dated medical term (hence the ‘doesn’t get used much anymore’). In the example of Robert Jordan, several characters throughout the series have ‘looked apoplectic’ at one time or another. Which got me thinking of a fun (and terrifying) little exercise for us all to try.

If you go back through your own writing, do you think you’ll see patterns of using the same words repeatedly?

I’m not talking about ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘is’ and the like – I’m talking about adjectives and adverbs. Remember learning about grammar in school? Adjectives and adverbs were part of that. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, clauses and sentences. Do you use these too much? Do you use the same ones over and over? Find something ending in ‘ly’ and do a search for it (if you’re using Word, this is fairly easy) – see how many times you use that same ‘ly’ word in the piece. Is it a big number? A small one? Are you surprised?

As I said, it’s both fun and terrifying to consider. We tend to get into patterns; we take the same route to work, we have the same things for lunch, we tell the same amusing stories at parties – the list goes on and on. Do we not falll into patterns in our writing too?

So. I’m proposing that, not only do we go and compare some of our past writing, but that we try and find new and more interesting words to use in the future. If you find yourself using ‘bad’ a lot, get thee a thesaurus! Find another word to use and then only use it once or twice! Look how many there are for ‘poor quality’:

abominable, amiss, atrocious, awful, bad news, beastly, bottom out, bummer, careless, cheap, cheesy, crappy, cruddy, crummy, defective, deficient, diddly, dissatisfactory, downer, dreadful, erroneous, fallacious, faulty, garbage, godawful, grody, gross, grungy, icky, imperfect, inadequate, incorrect, inferior, junky, lousy, not good, off, poor, raunchy, rough, sad, slipshod, stinking, substandard, synthetic, the pits, unacceptable, unsatisfactory.

Is ‘crazy’ a favorite word of yours? CHANGE IT UP! ‘Mentally strange’:

ape, barmy, bats in the belfry, batty, berserk, bonkers, cracked, crazed, cuckoo, daft, delirious, demented, deranged, dingy, dippy, erratic, flaky, flipped, flipped out, freaked out, fruity, idiotic, insane, kooky, lunatic, mad, mad as a March hare, mad as a hatter, maniacal, mental, moonstruck, nuts, nutty, nutty as fruitcake, of unsound mind, out of one’s mind, out of one’s tree, out to lunch, potty, psycho, round the bend, schizo, screw loose, screwball, screwy, silly, touched, unbalanced, unglued, unhinged, unzipped, wacky.

The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words – with so many words to choose from, surely we can find a few ‘new’ ones to shake up our patterns with.

Think of it as a new kind of adventure…  A caper…  An enterprise…  A quest…

~P