Monday, July 13, 2009

Logophile and Proud

I love weird words. Words like napiform, omphaloskepsis, and embolalia make me smile. And I can admit that these words don't make it into the average lexicon, because let's face it, they serve a very minute use.

But does that mean I shouldn't use them in books? A beta reader once circled a word in a draft and wrote, "You can't use that word. No one will know what it means." I frowned and pouted over that note. It was the right word! They just don't make other words for that sort of thing. (In case your wondering, the word was embolalia. If you know a good synonym for that, please share it.)

Some of my favorite books have sent me reaching for a dictionary more than once. Even books that I'd consider easy reading aren't free from unfamiliar words. Does that mean the writer should have avoided them? I think, as the reader, it was within my responsibilities to grab a dictionary and look it up if I didn't know the word.

I still remember Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and the way the definitions were worked right into the text. "Count Olaf realized he could either come clean -- a phrase which here means admit he was really Count Olaf and desperately trying to steal the Baudelaire fortune -- or perpetuate his deception -- a phrase which here means lie, lie, lie." I laugh aloud the first time I read that. (Secretly, I give a little smile when I think of it. ^_^ )

I, personally, don't wish to ape Lemony Snicket's style, and I don't want my characters to sound like the are the illegitimate offspring of Roget's Thesaurus, but I like to be able to use the right word in the narration, no matter how syllables it is.

As Mark Twain once said, "Use the right word, not it's second cousin." As a devoted logophile, I know some weird ones, but when they're the right word, I think they should stay. Why settle for the dinky second cousin just because he's more recognizable?

Are you a word geek? Are you likely to drop a word because it is largely unknown? How unknown is too unknown, especially for younger readers?

1 comment:

  1. I don't like reading a book with a dictionary in my hand, so I prefer it when the meaning of a word is clear from the context. I'll allow authors one or two words per book that I have to look up but more than that and I get impatient.

    Having said that, I love words and it's such a pain to avoid them because someone may not know what they mean. Troglodyte and defenestration are two of my favourites. It amazes me that there is a word that means "to throw out of a window". How often did that come up to make it worth coining the word?

    Maybe Lemony Snicket has the right idea, although I'm sure it's possible to do it more subtly.