A friend of mine is fond of learning new and challenging words. He finds it fun to look up these words and their meanings to challenge the rest of us to pronounce them.While that’s amusing and interesting, sometimes words get in the way if they are not common words.
I ran into that when writing my historical novel, Into the Dust. I used the word “found” which in the 1800s meant the same thing as room and board basically.The problem was that it was not a term people of our time were familiar with and so there were a couple of people who questioned me, thinking I’d made a mistake and used the wrong word. Of course, on the flip side of that I’ve seen movies and plays where they’ve got people in 15th century costumes running around speaking almost hip-hop. We have to balance our words with our settings.
When anyone reading our work stumbles over a word and/or has to look it up the flow of the work is stopped. So we have to be careful in what words we choose. Sure some people are well educated and can use multi-syllable words easily, but the majority of people who read for pleasure like well known words, even if they are technical. For instance, the word “adscititous” (which even my spell checker questions) instead of the word “additional” is hard to use in everyday speech or reading. Imagine reading a sentence like, “She knew it was going to be a bad afternoon since she was already experiencing borborygmus.” You might guess what that meant but for 90% or more of us we’d have to go to the dictionary to find out she had gas and rumbling in her intestines, which all of us know can signal a bad afternoon. There are lots of descriptive ways to say that without obscure words.
Words can be powerful and dramatic. We all know a well crafted paragraph or even sentence might become something quoted for a lifetime. Will Rogers once said “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” Circa 322 B.C. Aristotle said, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Simple statements using common words, yet we remember them today. Think about your favorite quotes–aren’t they the same? “