27 February 2012

What's In A Word?

by Fran Rizer

The young lady farded before leaving to meet the new man she'd met on the Internet.

She hoped he wasn't a grinagog. After all, she'd met one of those the previous night, and it had become a kankedort. That's why she'd chosen to make this a jentacular date, hoping it wouldn't turn out to make her niddick quiver.

The last man had been ambisinistrous, though eumorphous. Unfortunately, he'd insisted on going to a new restaurant and ordering for her. The spitchcock had almost gagged her. It was even covered with shitake. When she'd complained, the man insisted she taste his scrod. She thought it was quisquilious and certainly hadn't want to osculate with the man after he'd stared at her glabella and complained that his coccyx hurt after they'd run into a friend of his who debagged him.

Well, what do you think? Did you understand that brief scenario or did it make you want to run for the dictionary? Did you think parts of it might even be a bit "blue" or off-color? Unless your normal vocabulary far exceeds mine, you may have misinterpreted some of it.

Through the years, I've met writers who like to pull out every ten-dollar word they know when writing. I'm not referring to the jargon specific to a subject, just the habit of using a long, lesser known word when a regular old two-dollar word will do. A friend who wanted to critique each other's writings told me, "I want every paragraph to have a word that the reader has to look up in the dictionary."

I laughed and said, "Then I don't want to read what you're writing. Fiction should entertain, and unless you explain those words in context, I don't want to read what you write."

Unless I'm writing an instructional article, I try to write so the average adult reader will understand what I'm trying to say. I've been told that my Callie Parrish mysteries are great "Beach Reads," because they are easy reading. That comes naturally because I spent over thirteen years teaching fifth grade, so I tend to write on about a fifth-grade level in vocabulary. That doesn't worry me a lot because most newspapers are now written below fifth-grade level.

I used to "collect" unusual words though I don't use them in normal speech, nor in fiction. (Not even in the serial killer novel, which is a different style from Callie.) In case I've collected a few words you haven't, I'll give you these for your edification:

  • fard - to put on excessive makeup
  • grinagog - person who grins a lot
  • kankedort - an awkward situation
  • jentacular - related to breakfast
  • niddick - nape of the neck
  • ambisinistrous - clumsy, opposite of ambidextrous
  • eumorphous - well formed
  • splitchcock - a special way of cooking eel
  • shitake - a kind of mushroom
  • scrod - young cod fish
  • quisquilious - like garbage
  • osculate - kiss
  • glabella - facial area between the eyebrows
  • coccyx - bottom bone of the spine
  • debag - to pull someone's pants down as a joke

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.


  1. WHEW! Those are some words, Fran! Talk about cryptography!!

    When I read, “The young lady farded before leaving…” I thought, Is this a typo? Is the word supposed to be “faded”— as in “she faded away while leaving”? Then I wondered if the misspelling was a case of accidentally typing a “d” instead of a “t”. After all, if the first D in farded was replaced with a T, she certainly might feel the need to leave!

    By the time I hit grinagog and kankedorf, however, I decided you’d copied this from somebody’s second-rate sci-fi novel! Honestly, I thought they were made up, and supposed to connote alien concepts or practices. LOL

    This was certainly a eumorphous post!

    P.S. Truly hope all is improving with your mom.

  2. Fun list but a terrible blow to the ego. I didn't do too badly in the 2nd half of the list, but I hate to admit how many I got in the first half: zero!

  3. I am working on a story featuring an old man from Kentucky. it briangs up the question: how any authentic dialect terms can i use without losing the reader?

    i try to use context but sometimes i have to cheat. "to have the big eye" means to be greedy, but that is hard to mae clear so my caracter says of a man "he has the big eye for money.". redundant but clearer.

  4. Good article. Writers who use two dollar or obscure words are overcompensating for their inability to write comprehensively, I think.

    Equally annoying to me are writers who use foreign phrases without interpeting them. Agatha Christie was guilty of this.

    The main reason I refrain from using them is quite simple: I don't know that many.

    As a footnote, I find that the words I must use to prove I am not a robot are more often than not, impossible to decipher. It usually takes two or three tries before I get lucky.

  5. You got me good, Fran! I thought I'd fallen through the looking glass into the middle of a Lewis Carrol story. I enjoyed the article and learned some new words.

  6. Glad this wasn’t a vocabulary test because I only guessed one. Challenging post, Fran.

  7. Herschel, have you considered that you might BE a robot? By the way, I saw your name last night... your story "The Black Box" was in the first issue of AHMM that published one of my stories.

  8. Herschel, you might solve your problem by doing what I do.

    After typing my comment, I wave my arms in the air while bellowing: "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!"

    Though this may not convince the computer that I'm not a robot, I believe it helps the computer to see me as a "fellow traveler" -- one to whom it should be kind. By posting my comment.


  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Rob & Dixon,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I often wave my hands and shout when using the computer, but for more mundane reasons---like pure hate.

    Rob I am proud to be in the same issue as you. That was a long time ago.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>