Well, it’s been pretty crazy here in the Seattle area the past couple of weeks. Snowmageddon, or Snowpocalypse, has rendered many of us prisoners in our own homes. I’m beginning to wonder if the kids will ever go back to school.
But, just like in every situation, the positives stare you in the face if you are willing to look. It’s a great excuse to snuggle in with your coffee or hot chocolate (both of which have been copiously consumed here lately) in front of the fireplace, and write to your heart’s content.
This weekend’s collection is a nice variety of adjectives, which are usually used to describe nouns.
Adjectives kind of have a bad rap. Author Stephen King said the road to hell is paved with adjectives, and many writers overuse them in an effort to make their writing flowery or dramatic. It depends on how and where they’re used, but it’s important to be watchful of your usage of these descriptors.
Ineffable can mean indescribable or unspeakable. It comes from the Latin words for not and capable of being expressed. I’ve seen it used to describe things of greatness or beauty (the ineffable beauty of mountains) or something unspeakable (an ineffable disgust at his words).
Tenebrous is a synonym for dark, murky, obscure or causing gloom. According to Merriam-Webster, it comes from the Latin noun, tenebrae, meaning darkness. Use it to describe a foggy grove, or a moonless night, or a haunted house perhaps.
While Arcadian literally refers to the Greek region of Arcadia, its definition of simplicity and untroubled by worry or fear comes from the simple and easygoing way of life of the ancient Arcadians.
Ephemeral is a synonym for fleeting, short-lived or brief. An example is: footprints in the sand are ephemeral. And I just think it’s a beautiful-sounding word.
Antiquated is also a cool-sounding word. It means old-fashioned or outdated. Examples include antiquated opinions about the roles of the genders in society; or the antiquated pluming system in the old house.
Are you familiar with these words? Have you used them in your writing?
For those of you surrounded by an abundance of snow this weekend, enjoy the hunkering down. For everyone else, have a great writing weekend!
What are your favorite words? Let me know in the comments.
I was reading a book the other day (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and came across the word nonplussed. But it didn’t make sense in the context it was used.
At least, I didn’t think it made sense. It’s not a word I normally use in everyday life or in writing, and I’m certainly no word purist, but I always thought I understood its definition.
I was wrong.
The English language after all, is a crazy, messed up thing. Sometimes I wonder how we’re able to use it for communication purposes at all.
Especially words and their meanings. Many words have evolved into a usage that means nearly the opposite of their true or original definition.
Nonplussed for example.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word nonplussed has been around since the 16th century, and has always been synonymous with “perplexed.”
Until relatively recently, that is. In the early 20th century, people — especially those in the U.S. — inexplicably began using it as almost an opposite of its true definition, that is, unimpressed or unconcerned.
While the definition of nonplussed as a state of being unconcerned remains incorrect, that hasn’t prevented some well-respected publications from using it that way.
With language being as fluid as it is, perhaps this context will eventually become “correct.” Who knows?
Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Another bewildering set of words is Disinterested and Uninterested. It appears the history of these two words is as baffling as the words themselves, with their respective definitions swapping back and forth.
Traditionally, uninterested has meant “not interested,” while disinterested has been synonymous with “impartial.” The confusion appears to have materialized due to the two meanings of the word interested: “having the attention engaged,” and the less common “having a stake in a given matter.”
Uninterested refers to the former, while disinterested refers to the latter, as in an impartial (disinterested) mediator, who has no bias in the outcome of an arbitration.
As with many other words, disinterested’s original definition is slowly changing to another one that is commonly used and accepted.
Flammable or Inflammable?
If those examples don’t make you nauseated (as opposed to nauseous, which, unless you enjoy making others ill, you probably want to refrain from), check out flammable and inflammable.
Flammable means easily ignited.
Here’s the messed up part: Inflammable also means easily ignited. This word was invented first, and is a derivative of the verb “inflame” (to catch fire). The confusion, of course, comes from the misinterpretation of “in” as the well-known negative or opposite prefix.
So inflammable literally means the opposite of what common grammar rules would dictate.
Speaking of literally…
This word is so often used incorrectly that its meaning is also evolving into “figuratively” or as an emphasis. (“It is literally a thousand degrees in here.”)
The internet is packed with lists of commonly misused words. Adding the most difficult ones — along with their proper, or evolving definitions — to your Word Hoard may be helpful.
If all this incorrect word manipulation leaves you feeling a bit bemused (which is synonymous with confusion or bewilderment, and NOT with amusement), check out contronyms.
Contronyms, also called auto-antonyms (among others), are words that have two opposite (and correct) meanings. Obviously, the context in which the word is used provides the meaning the author intends.
Examples include: dust (removing dust from furniture, or applying powdered sugar to a cake); screen (to show a movie, or hide from view); and fast (moving rapidly, or fixed and unmoving).
My favorite is left, which can mean “departed” or “remaining.” (Before my dad left, he ate all of the pretzels in snack mix. The peanuts are the only thing left.) Then you have its other definitions, like the opposite of “right.”
I am so nonplussed by English vocabulary.
What words have tripped you up? Please share in the comments!
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As a new writer, you’re bombarded by a surfeit (n. an overabundant supply) of advice to improve your craft. Most of it is helpful and useful such as practicing your writing every day and reading as much as you can get your eyeballs on.
You’ve researched methods for procuring (v. obtaining something, especially with care or effort) ideas for your writing. Ideas can be found in your everyday life, someone else’s life, or your imagination.
But what about words? Of course, the vocabulary we employ provides the foundation of our writing. Our words must engage our readers and form images in their minds. But what specific words should we use?
Creating a Word Hoard is a fun and worthwhile pursuit (n. an activity that one engages in as a vocation or profession) to refine your writing vocabulary. This type of compulsive collecting won’t find you on A&E’s Hoarders though. Accumulating words will enhance your vocabulary and can sharpen your writing and make it more interesting.
What is a Word Hoard?
I first saw the term in Barbara Baig’s book Spellbinding Sentences (this a fantastic guide for any writer wanting to improve their craft).A Word Hoard is an aggregation (a collection of units or parts into a mass or whole) of interesting, new-to-you, or otherwise useful words that a writer can use in her writing.
Where should I keep my Word Hoard?
Your Word Hoard can be kept in anything that is easily accessible; that is, a place where you can have it available while you’re writing or collecting. A Writer’s Notebook is a great place to start. Every writer should keep a notebook where he can organize his word hoard, writing ideas, and other useful information that is used to help him write.
Your Writer’s Notebook can be a physical notebook or a binder if you prefer to hand-write your work. It can be a file or folder on your computer. For word hoarding, I prefer using pen and paper because it helps my brain to retain (v. keep in one’s memory) the information better. Of course, you can use both methods or incorporate others.
I recommend keeping a 3-ring binder for your Writer’s Notebook, so you can add and subtract items as needed. Download your free Word Hoard printable here. Print off as many as you need as you continue to collect words.
Where Can I Collect Words?
One of the best sources for your Hoard is your reading materials. Whether you read books, blogs, or the instructions for your IKEA furniture, when you come across a word that you like the sound of, add it to your collection. If you read a term or phrase that you like the definition of, write it down in your notebook. If you happen upon a new-to-you word that you’ve never seen before (or haveseen before but never really knew what it meant), be sure to ascertain (v. find something out for certain; make sure of) its definition and pronunciation, and jot (v. to write briefly or hurriedly) it down.
Another great source for collecting words is everyday life while you’re out and about. I’m not advocating eavesdropping, but overhearing a conversation while sitting in your favorite coffee shop can be a great source of new words (and perhaps story ideas). If you can’t carry your Writer’s Notebook with you everywhere, at least be sure to keep a small notebook or use your phone to keep track of ideas you hear or see.
An effortless way to acquire words is to sign up for one of the online dictionary’s daily “Word of the Day” emails. Every morning, I receive an email from the online version of Merriam-Webster containing its word of the day. Some of the words I’m already acquainted with while others are unfamiliar. Even if they are already part of my vocabulary, the email provides examples of ways to use the word, synonyms, and other useful information.
Pinterest, if you’re into it, is a great source for unusual and interesting words that may or may not be located in a standard dictionary. Words like “pluviophile” (a lover of rain), “oneiric” (of or relating to dreams), and “sempiternal” (eternal and unchanging; everlasting) reside in my Pinterest Word Hoard.
Keep an eye and ear out everywhere for any words you may want to collect: billboards, the media, and your kid’s Tae Kwon Do class can all be great sources.
How to Use Your Word Hoard
What the heck are you supposed to do with all these new words that you collect?
Try to incorporate your new words into your daily speaking. Make a game out of it, and have fun with it.
When writing, if you’re struggling for just the right word, check out your Word Hoard. It may be there. But don’t force it. Sometimes a thesaurus can be helpful.
Some words are so beautiful and amazing, you can create an entire plot from them. Or try to create a story or essay using as many of your hoarded words as you can. There are countless ways to incorporate your Hoard into your writing.
Let’s Get Started
First, create a section in your Writer’s Notebook for your Word Hoard. Label it whatever you wish. (I’m kind of partial to “Word Herd,” but I’m weird like that).
Sign up for daily emails from Merriam Webster or another online dictionary. Or several of them. Check the word every day. It may be interesting to keep track of how many words you already know compared to the new-to-you ones.