Mysterious Words

CC image by Anne Davis 773

I once received a criticism that my writing had some words that the reader didn’t know, and that it was distracting to have to look those words up.

I value feedback, but I’ve never tossed a critique out so quickly before.

In my own journey as a writer, part of the joy of the experience has been in the immersion of the language. Is there anything so satisfying as finding the precise, perfect word to describe something? I would be flummoxed if I met a writer that felt differently.

CC image by gadgetgirl

CC image by gadgetgirl


Do you know what any of these words mean? I didn’t. Come on, aren’t you curious? Microsoft Word puts red lines under half of them, which is also satisfying for some reason.

I know some writers have a simpler style or write for a younger audience, and that’s fine. My opinion is that it certainly won’t hurt you to further develop your vocabulary. Really, my only caution is that subtlety, artfulness, and tact all still apply—don’t write like a pretentious snob. The employment of an egregious and gratuitous lexicon is both wearisome and vexatious.

Ugh. Sorry, I only wanted to prove my point.

Many of the writers I have read that use the occasional mysterious word are so good at what they do that even though I may not know the exact definition of the word, I get the feel of it. The context of the writing and the tone is strong enough to support the words. They’re not thrown about haphazardly. That’s a skill I would like to continue to foster in my work, and that was the takeaway I got from the critique. Perhaps that’s a blog post for another day that even the feedback you vehemently disagree with may have a kernel of truth to it. Sometimes readers circle something with red paint and flashing lights and say, “This is the problem!” when really they’re highlighting a symptom. You have to do the work to find out what’s really the source of the dissatisfaction. I digress.

To the point, I admit I enjoy coming across new words, and I think writers and readers alike should stop glossing over words they don’t know. It’s so easy nowadays to just whip out your phone and look it up. I also have an ongoing list on my phone of words to look up later or that I want to remember. If you want to be extra nerdy, get an app like’s app. I get a notification every morning of the word of the day. Sometimes it’s helpful, a word I would actually like to learn and employ. Sometimes it’s just interesting that English actually has a word for some random concept. And sometimes it’s just fun and amusing. Like today. Today’s word is sockdolager. It’s the kind of word you can only say with an exaggerated accent of some kind.

What can I say? I find language fascinating. I love the nuances. I find myself having a quick debate with others about whether the word stature is used only for height or if it refers to one’s build in general, wondering if I will ever see the word riveting not used sarcastically, and complaining that things can be nonsensical even though sensical is not a word. I like being a nerd. I like being a writer.

By: Rachelle Clifford