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Thread: List of Great or Exotic Words

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    List of Great or Exotic Words

    I've been doing a lot of reading lately and noticing that most successful authors have vocabularies that beat mine in every dimension. I try to write down the words I see that I'm not familiar with, but it's beyond that: not only do they use unfamiliar words, they use words that I know but don't think to use when I'm writing.

    To combat the problem, I'm making a list of words and definitions to try to incorporate into my writing; many of them may be familiar to you, some are even familiar to me. What matters is that the word packs a punch, holds power over the imagination. I'll try to post as often as I can, and anyone can feel free to add their own words to the list.

    Here goes for the first entry:

    epiphytic -- relying on something else for structural, but not nutritional support

    suppurations -- pockets of pus

    agglutinate -- to cause to adhere, as with glue; to cause blood to clot

    execration -- a curse

    flue -- a conduit to carry off smoke

    hirsute -- hairy

    irascible -- prone to outbursts of anger

    argent -- silvery

    aspersion -- damaging remark

    abnegate -- to deny oneself

    efficacious -- capable of producing a desired effect

    trenchant -- forceful, cutting

    solipsist -- one who believes they alone are real

    corpulent -- excessively fat

    perspicacious -- mentally discerning

    excoriate -- to tear or wear off skin; to abrade

    angiosperm -- a flowering plant

    inculcate -- to teach by repetition

    sepulchral -- reminiscent of funerals

    contrail -- the streak of condensed water vapor or ice crystals that follows an aircraft

    avocation -- a hobby

    attenuate -- to shrink

    coruscate -- to glitter or sparkle

    I'll have more later, and I encourage other people to provide words of their own. All of these were found in books I have read in the past year, many of which have been bestsellers of award winners.

  2. #2
    13th Triskaidekaphobe Richard's Avatar
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    thesarus -- to make something sound more intelligent than it is by adding a million syllables.

  3. #3
    useless info sponge Hang of Thursdays's Avatar
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    I like the word "apoplectic" myself, mainly because it describes a situation I frequently find myself in, and because it reminds me of Popes. Everytime I use it I imagine a Pope -- in the requisite pope-hat -- jumping up and down, yelling and screaming. It's a funny mental image but I'll grant that not everyone is as easily amused as I.

    I'm also fond of arboreal -- relating to a tree/living in trees; and its adverb form, arboreally, which I guess means to do something in an arboreal fashion, but I can't think of a single logical sentence that could incorporate that word.

    Didn't stop me from making an email address out of it.
    All the standard disclaimers apply.

  4. #4
    wshhhhhshweshhhwwweshh gp101's Avatar
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    Big words, or words that force you to reach for the Webster's, don't necessarily make for great writing, especially in commercial fiction IMHO. Too much of it makes the writing sound pretentious, like the writer wants to show off his expanded vocabulary. And the uncommonly used word thrown in the wrong place could make the writer look ridiculous, as in the narrator or the particular character POV has been pretty average in language usuage for chapters and chapters, then all of a sudden we get a Scrabble-winning nugget out of nowhere. I say use them sparingly if you must use them at all.

    That said, there are some literary novels and short stories that just ooze of uncommonly used words and that seems to satisfy the literati crowd and the high-brow critics. As always, know your genre and whom you're writing for.

    Now, the common word used in an uncommon way; that's a treat to read.

  5. #5
    I verb nouns adverbly loquax's Avatar
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    Monkeys live arboreally.

  6. #6
    useless info sponge Hang of Thursdays's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by loquax
    Monkeys live arboreally.
    Hmph.

    Never mind.

    Though, every time I see an adverb, i think of those dreaded dialogue tags "I hate you!" Jim said angrily. Let me rephrase what I said above: I have a hard but very fun time coming up with a line of dialogue that would fit "he said arboreally."

    Now THERE'S a brain teaser.

    (tired.)
    All the standard disclaimers apply.

  7. #7
    Walkin' That Road brokenfingers's Avatar
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    Sounds like you're reading Stephen R. Donaldson.

    I have a pretty good vocabulary but his latest book had me dog-earing my dictionary...

  8. #8
    The grad students did it NeuroFizz's Avatar
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    Does anyone want a reader to put down the book to consult a dictionary? The most useful uncommon words are those a reader can decipher from the context, and the best are the ones that give the writing a rhythm or resonance that rises above the that of the common word. That's why I slather peanut butter on my bagel at lunchtime. Some would argue that rhythm/resonance is the second best reason for using uncommon words--the first is to avoid repetition. Some would reverse the order.

  9. #9
    I verb nouns adverbly loquax's Avatar
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    "Get me out of this damn tree," he shouted arboreally.

    Perhaps being in a tree affects your tone of speech.

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    I'm Part Of The Problem JANE007's Avatar
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    I use a thesarus

    If I am unhappy with a word i've chosen I consult a thesarus to change it, however I wouldn't want to alienate readers with obscure words that make them scratch their heads wondering about the definition.

    JMHO


    I would never claim to be "normal". And if I did, you should question me, because normal is a setting on a washing machine and does not apply to the human species.

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    I must say I hate it when I'm into a story and the author throws a word in that I haven't a clue what it means and worse - haven't a clue how it's pronounced. The mental stumble it causes, throws me right off the plot while I ponder it's meaning and silently try out the variety of possible intonations. "Silent e, emphasis on the second syllable?" "Long e?" It will bug me til I look it up, which means finding and digging out my dictionary. This is a bad thing for writers because if he has a lot of readers like me who like to immerse themselves for long periods of time in a book, too many unnecessary interruptions increases the chances that I will put the book down for good - and guaranteeing that I won't read anything else by that author in the future.

  12. #12
    Weird is what I do. StoryG27's Avatar
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    I just about kieled over when I saw the word 'solipsist' followed by the definition.

    I knew (know) a person with this, but I never knew it was an actual mental problem or that there was a name for thinking oneself was the only real thing that existed. I have to tell you, this spurred an Internet research frenzy on my part and I've been learning a lot about solipsism, and it is very interesting and helpful. It's really painful to care for a person who doubts that you even exist once they can't see you anymore; it makes them a colder and much less compassionate.

    So anyway, I just wanted to thank you Alaskamatt17 for helping me learn about this. I'm sure that wasn't your intention, but thanks anyway!!!
    AKA: storygirl

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW inexperiencedinker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeuroFizz
    Does anyone want a reader to put down the book to consult a dictionary? The most useful uncommon words are those a reader can decipher from the context, and the best are the ones that give the writing a rhythm or resonance that rises above the that of the common word. That's why I slather peanut butter on my bagel at lunchtime. Some would argue that rhythm/resonance is the second best reason for using uncommon words--the first is to avoid repetition. Some would reverse the order.
    Get out of my head Neurofizz!!
    I was thinking the same thing as I read through this thread. I enjoy learning new words if I can glean the meaning from the situation or narration in the book. I won't look a word up in the dictionary, I will just skip to the next sentence and ignore it. If it was important, well then I missed it!
    I took Latin in high school which has helped me immensley in figuring out what a word means, and I have always read far above my formal education level. This has created a definite problem with my writing voice vs. my speaking voice. I have had friends and employers accuse me of plagiarizing work due to it's advanced vocabulary. Who can blame them when I speak like a caveman (sorry Geico) and write like a professor? I am scared to death to try to pronounce any of the heavy hitters in my vocabulary arsenal. I'll sound like a looser. "Maw-caw-bee?" "May-cay-bray?" "May-cawbra?" "May-cra-bay?" Who the aych ee double hockey sticks knows how to say MACABRE?
    One classic example is Tad Williams. He had me confused due to plot, characters, and this insanely huge vocabulary that made me want to cry. I did use a dictionary on that one.
    D*mn you Tad Williams....D*MN YOU!!
    -----
    I need coffee now...my head hurts
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  14. #14
    Nefarious Ghost Fan AnneMarble's Avatar
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    Stephen R. Donaldson

    Quote Originally Posted by brokenfingers
    Sounds like you're reading Stephen R. Donaldson.


    I wish I had that link to a site where someone took passage from Donaldson's first fantasy novel and tore apart the writing, even pointing out that he misused some of the exotic words he likes. I enjoyed Lord Foul's Bane, but I also had to hold my brain back from trying to go back to the story I was writing at that time and make it sound more "Donaldsonian." Reading authors with a very distinctive style can be dangerous to your own writing if you're not careful.

    Now, I don't agree with those writers who say that you should throw away or lock away your thesaurus before writing, but you should use it (and obscure words) with care. Don't make it hard on your readers. Most of them just want to be entertained. They don't want to feel as if they're taking a vocabulary test.
    Last edited by AnneMarble; 08-22-2005 at 07:55 PM. Reason: Can't quote worth a darn
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    "Maw-caw-bee?" "May-cay-bray?" "May-cawbra?" "May-cra-bay?" Who the aych ee double hockey sticks knows how to say MACABRE?"

    Hee! There are a few words that give me pause and these 2 come to mind - the British spelling of "draft" is "draught" and in my head I would pronounce it to rhyme with "caught" - a "draughty" hall sounded ever so much breezier and colder than a mere "drafty" hall. Then there is "crudite" which sounded crispier and all together tastier if it was pronounced "crude-ite" rather than the frou frou sounding "crude-i-tay." I do remember each time I used them the way I thought they should be pronounced, and the puzzled looks I recieved. I can only thank my lucky stars I didn't have the opportunity to tell people to "come out of the draughty hall and help themselves to the crudites on the table..." or I may never have opened my mouth in public again...

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Marcusthefish's Avatar
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    Speaking of SF, Gene Wolfe is the king of archaic (but real) words. His New Sun books inspired one of his fans to create a dictionary, the Lexicon Urthus.

    I tend to stay away from the big latinate words, myself, but I've always liked "defenestrate," which means to throw out a window.

    MTF

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW inexperiencedinker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kikazaru
    Then there is "crudite" which sounded crispier and all together tastier if it was pronounced "crude-ite" rather than the frou frou sounding "crude-i-tay."
    I'm sorry, are telling me it ISN'T crude-ite???? I am telling you, I must sound like monkey when I speak!

    I blame it on the french...all there words mess me up, and everyone mispronounces EASY words to sound more "frou-frou" How about we band together and demand a phonetic language! Hooray 4 fow-net-iks!
    ii

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  18. #18
    I verb nouns adverbly loquax's Avatar
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    How do you yanks spell the British "draft" then? As in "first draft"?

    Don't tell me; drapht.

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    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    Everyone lately has been accusing me of reading too much Donaldson, but I've never read one of his books! I own one (got it in a box with some other books), but it's the sixth in a series so I never bothered reading it.

    The words I listed above came mostly from Alan Dean Foster, Robert J. Sawyer, C. S. Lewis, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Isaac Asimov. Also a few from Stephen King. I did have to use a dictionary to find definitions, but I promise I don't rely on a thesaurus while writing. I only use words that I have in my vocabulary ahead of time, which makes it useful to expand my vocabulary when I'm not writing. The only way I do this is by making notes when I come across unknown words in a book I'm reading. I don't get these by dictionary browsing.

    Here are some more:

    catharsis -- cleansing of emotions; purgation of the digestive system

    consistory -- a council; tribunal

    ligature -- a cord, wire, or bandage used for tying

    occlude -- to cause to become closed; obstruct

    galvanic -- having the effect of an electric shock

    indolent -- habitually lazy

    martinet -- rigid military disciplinarian; one who demands absolute adherence to rules

    enervate -- to weaken, debilitate



    To mix things up a little, here are some words from non-fiction, peer reviewed journals:

    putative -- generally regarded as such; supposed

    albedo -- the fraction of incident electromagnetic radiation reflected by a surface, especially of a celestial body

    latent -- present or potential, but not evident or active

    induration -- the quality or condition of being hardened

    lacustrine -- of or relating to lakes

    riparian -- relating to the banks of a natural course of water

    comminute -- to powderize

    graben -- a usually elongated depression between two geologic faults

    neritic -- of or relating to the region of the sea over the continental shelf which is less than 200 meters deep

  20. #20
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    When I was in middle school, there were a bunch of words that I'd get a kick out of using in essays whenever I could. One of them was perspicacity, and it made me giggle still when I saw 'perspicacious' on the list here.

    Another favorite was the word 'crepuscular'-- or active at twilight. In fact, I don't think I've had a reason to use that word since middle school and I wrote an essay on nocturnal animals so that I could sneak it in.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    Crepuscular is a good one; I used it in my last novel, and I've seen it used in two other books.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by inexperiencedinker
    One classic example is Tad Williams. He had me confused due to plot, characters, and this insanely huge vocabulary that made me want to cry. I did use a dictionary on that one.
    D*mn you Tad Williams....D*MN YOU!!
    -----
    I need coffee now...my head hurts
    Tad Williams is a really good writer. Which books of his did you read? I liked the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, but Otherland was good, too.

  23. #23
    Five by Five SuperModerator katiemac's Avatar
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    I don't know why you would choose "angiosperm" unless your character is a bio professor in the middle of lecture.

    Would you rather read: "It was a beautiful flowering plant," or "It was a beautiful angiosperm"? The latter conjures up images of anything but beautiful, IMO.

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    Many of these words are scientific, because many of them come from science fiction (my reading preferences influence the words I came into contact with). I believe it was a biologist that said "angiosperm" in the book I read. I found it useful because one of my characters in my WIP is a biologist, and, while she probably wouldn't say, "Look at that beautiful angiosperm!" she might jot down some notes on the plant, which might very well include the word "angiosperm."

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by JANE007
    If I am unhappy with a word i've chosen I consult a thesarus to change it, however I wouldn't want to alienate readers with obscure words that make them scratch their heads wondering about the definition.
    ditto

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