Using Long Words: Being a proud logophile4 min read
The writer-creature is often someone who enjoys a good word. Not just finding the perfect word to describe something, but finding the weirdest, shiniest word to describe something. “Effervescent” instead of “bubbly”. “Diminutive” instead of “small”. If you’ve been writing for a long time, you’ve probably built up a few favourite words that you like to drag out and flap about in the reader’s face.
But what about the showy-offy words? The words that 90% or more of the reading market aren’t going to recognise. Should you include them or not?
Personally, I love being introduced to new words. I have a battered second hand copy of John Banville’s The Sea by someone who obviously thought the same way and left pencil exclamation marks by the exact same words I also enjoyed looking up and finding out about. But for some people that experience can be alienating, they feel unintelligent and small. How do you get around that?
Well, there’s a lot that most readers can pick up in context anyway. So you could spend time ensuring that the context around that fancy new word is robust and provides enough clues to the readers. But that could spoil the fun people like me have looking up the new word. You could consider adding a glossary. A glossary means the reading population know you weren’t expecting them to understand this word, so maybe they’ll be less offended. But a glossary could look affected, like you’re just showing off. Or they may still be offended.
You could leave the fancy word out. That’s probably what Hemingway would do. He likes his prose simple and on point. But we don’t all want to be Hemingways. I have no intention of attending shooting trips to Africa or having quite that many marriages. (Though I’m young still, I guess that could change.)
Using words is our craft. If we find a beautiful but out-of-fashion word then I think it’s a wonderful obligation to try and reintroduce it to as many readers as possible. I didn’t even know that the word “eucatastrophe” existed, and it just means a happy ending. Amazing. Why have I only just learnt about this word? However “bloviate” is one I did know. And am frequently accused of.
So, how about we all become “opsimaths”? Our studies in earlier life and reading may not have uncovered enough new and exciting words. People shouldn’t be embarrassed to use long words. People should be excited to keep learning. Let’s get ourselves back to school and start finding new words to let loose in the paper plains.
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