Category Archives: Words

Inventing Words

I always send a message to my subconscious before going to sleep, asking my grey cells about what to write next, or how to tackle a plot problem. Sometimes, my brain makes useful suggestions to me in the night, as I turn over in bed. Other times, I attempt to access nocturnal ideas in the transition state between sleep and full wakefulness.

This morning, my mischievous noddle spat out one word—Thyssingness.

Puzzled as to what the hell this archaic-sounding word could possibly mean, I roused myself and went online to check. You won’t be surprised to learn that it doesn’t exist, though there’s a Thyssing Industrial Supplies in Victoria, Australia.

I think that my brain’s thesaurus got scrambled, but there have been plenty of authors who invented words that have since entered the English language. Charles Dickens coined dozens of words, such as the creeps, devil-may-care and flummox.

William Shakespeare: supposedly invented 1,700 words, including advertising, torture and summit.

Children’s authors have free rein to play with language. Lewis Carroll and Doctor Seuss invented plenty of nonsense words, as well as others that are commonly used. Dr Seuss is credited with inventing the word nerd, while Caroll thought of chortle for quietly laughing.

Science-Fiction and Fantasy authors often create whole languages for their worlds.

My Cornish Detective novels contain local expressions and words delivered in the local patois, which many readers won’t be familiar with, but they’re real words. For instance, holidaymakers who invade the county in summer, swarming around, are referred to as Emmets, which is Cornish for ants.

Have any of you invented words?

The Science of Silly Words

This article from the Guardian made me smile.

I’m sure that we all have favourite silly words. Diphthong sounds a lot ruder than it is, while dongle is always good for a smirk – such as when innocently saying things such as “I recharged my dongle” or “I dropped my dongle down the back of the sofa.”

Scrumping is something that I did a lot of as a child, as there was an abandoned orchard nearby, and the word is pleasingly silly and naughty, inviting emphasis when said—and I wouldn’t feel a wazzock for doing so.

I like the word copacetic, which I came across in James Lee Burke’s novels, before living in Atlanta, Georgia for three years. I was delighted to hear people using it there. It’s definitely an Americanism, and I like throwing it into conversations as most Brits wonder what the hell I’m saying!

Do you have any favourites?

Image result for copacetic cartoon

Beautiful Words

This article, listing the 70 most beautiful words in the English language could be useful, if you applied the words wisely—in your book title or synopsis, for example.

I’m surprised at two omissions, words that I like and which I’ve seen authors mention as their favourites when interviewed—tintinnabulation, for the sound of a bell ringing—and susurration, meaning a whispering sound made by people, waves on a beach or wind through leaves.

I guess, that for most writers, two of the most beautiful words appear when they type The End…except that they’re followed by one of the most terrifying of words—Editing!

Do you have any favourite words that didn’t make the list?

Ann Patchett

Horrible Words!

A while ago, I posted about unpopular words, after ‘moist’ was voted the least-liked word in the English language.

One word that’s come into common usage in recent years, which irritates some people, is ‘ongoing.’ I think it’s replaced ‘continuing’ because it sounds more proactive—a mini example of spin—as the speaker or writer is ‘on’ something that’s ‘going’ somewhere…whereas ‘continuing’ implies that something is dragging on, with no end in sight.

Euphemisms can be used politely to spare people’s feelings or diplomatically to obscure the true ghastly meaning, which is public relations for governments. As writer and critic Isaac Goldberg observed: “Diplomacy is to say and do the nastiest things in the nicest way.”

Thus, we get odious terms like ‘collateral damage’ and ‘friendly fire’ to denote people killed unintentionally in war zones. These days, those who are meant to be targetted aren’t killed, they’re ‘neutralised.’

I dislike the way stars and celebrities are described as “rocking” an item of clothing. It’s an extension of another silly phrase to “rock up” somewhere.

“Flaunting” gets overused, usually inaccurately. If someone is flaunting themselves or something they own, they’re doing so in an ostentatious way to attract attention. A movie star sunbathing on a private beach wearing a bikini, unaware of paparazzi with telephoto lens 400 yards away, isn’t “flaunting her considerable assets.” The prurient and judgemental Daily Mail do this a lot, pretending to be disapproving of some bimbo flashing her boobs, while displaying her flesh for the delectation of their readers.

Word choice is crucial for writers, to create the right feeling. It’s sometimes tempting to use posh words, that prove how vast our vocabulary is, but often a simple choice carries more impact. However, giving your characters linguistic quirks, through their use of slang, technical or fancy words describes them as much as listing their physique and clothing.

When reading, I’ve become alert to the author or journalist’s word choice. Yesterday, I came across what looked like a horrid way to describe pumping water from a flooded mine, that I thought must be made up. It was in a Cornish newspaper report about plans to reactivate an abandoned tin mine called South Crofty. They intend to ‘dewater’ the mine. That’s a horrid way of saying drain, but to my surprise, it’s a long-established term.

I still don’t like it as a word, and it had me wondering if adding ‘de’ to other words would work—could it be said that a medic who revived a drowning victim had ‘dedeaded’ them? If I threw up after eating a meal, have I deeated it?

Are there any words or expressions that aggravate you?

Moist—do you dislike this word?

Apparently, the publisher Oxford Dictionaries is conducting a survey to find which English words are the most unpopular.

Negative campaign: Votes sought for most disliked English word

‘Moist’ is proving to be one of the most disliked, which surprises me a bit—perhaps it’s something to do with the way that pronouncing it forces the mouth into a suggestive moue—apart from any problematic suggestiveness of definition. Mind you, I can think of circumstances when it’s a jolly good thing if things are moist….

As a writer, I find it hard to get worked up about words being dislikeable, for they are tools to be used to convey meaning and create an effect. I do take exception to trendy slang. Words suddenly become popular, in a strange phenomenon that sees them applied to things that are nothing to do with their true meaning. Thirty years ago ‘turbo’ was used to describe everything from sunglasses to microwaves when turbocharged engines became popular as a way of generating increased performance.

These days, the word ‘iconic’ is bandied about with monotonous regularity—try watching a television programme to see how quickly the presenter uses it. They could better describe something as noted, famous, long-established, historic or well-known.

By chance, just this morning, I came across a revolting example of a trendy word that I absolutely hate! It was in a newsletter about politics and referred to Donald Trump having some ‘splaining’ to do.

Someone’s Gonna Have Some Splainin’ To Do

My brain did a somersault, briefly confusing it with another clumsy modern term for a man spreading his legs in public ‘manspreading.’

I realised that the journalist meant ‘explaining’. Even more annoyingly, he’d contracted a slang term ‘mansplaining’ in some feeble attempt to sound cool. What’s the point, if the word takes as long to say as the original, sounds ugly, creates confusion in the reader and is just a pathetic attempt at being hip?

Are there any words that drive you nuts?


‘Severe misuse’ of the survey for the most unpopular word, has led to Oxford Dictionaries suspending it.

Oxford Dictionaries halts search for most disliked word after ‘severe misuse’

Words from Your Birth Year

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary site has added a feature they call Time Traveller.

Image result for merriam webster time traveler

It’s a vaguely unsettling way of dating oneself, especially when you realise how young some words are, and also how so many have fallen into disuse…because you’ve certainly never heard of them!

I was born in 1954, which spawned such words as boonies, buyback, cash flow, junk mail, sleaze and wheeler-dealer. The word wonk also appeared—which meansa person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field.” Considering how much I study the world of writing and publishing, I’m a wonk! My spellchecker doesn’t like it, suggesting that I replace the ‘o’ with an ‘a’! 

Anyone in need of writing prompts could use the words from their year to create a story, using every one.

What words heralded your entry into the world?

A Word A Day

One of the best sites to subscribe to, if you’re interested in words is

They have a service called A.Word.A.Day, which sends out a daily email containing just that.

The service comes from Anu Garg, who founded Wordsmith in 2002. Remarkably, his first language is not English, but his fascination with words led to him quitting the corporate world to spread his love of etymology.

Image result for anu garg

He has a quarter of a million subscribers in 170 countries. Each week he chooses words that fit a particular theme, such as English words derived from a foreign language or words with a military connection. Feedback is encouraged, and there’s an enjoyable discussion of the week’s words delivered to your inbox at the weekend.

Each daily word email also has a pithy quote at the bottom of the page, which is a bonus.