One of the joys for me, as a young reader, was learning new words. I loved looking up meanings in dictionaries, gradually learning how modern English words came from ancient languages.
As an author, I try to make my use of words appropriate for the character who’s speaking. For instance, a regular presence in my series of Cornish detective novels is a 65-year-old forensic pathologist. She was raised as an army brat, in India during the closing days of the British Empire, and has a formal way of speaking that’s quaintly Victorian and militaristic.
As the omnipotent narrator of my stories, I’ll use long and unusual words if they suit the description. Thus, a specialist auditor would scrutinise a dodgy businessman’s account books. I’m not showing off by doing this, more honouring my readers’ intelligence.
I have a large vocabulary, but even so, I was challenged by a novel that I read recently. My eye was caught by Kim Zupan’s debut novel The Ploughmen, as it was the last book in the fiction section of my local library. It’s a brilliant crime thriller, with a highly unusual plot. Zupan looks to be in his sixties, (which gives me hope!) and is an admirable stylist in his descriptions of landscape, wildlife and weather.
He used at least twenty words that were new to me, including albedo, canzonet, arcature and bindlestiff. I guessed the meaning of the last one from the context, and it may be familiar to American readers of this post.
Zupan’s use of such words demonstrated his love of language, and it made me think about whether I was providing enough linguistic gems for my readers.
Do you use posh words?
Have you come across any good ones?