Writers and Prose; Using unique or unfamiliar words.

writingBoffin.
Williwaw.

Do you recognize these words?

I subscribe to Dictionary.com’s Word-a-day feature and every day I receive a new word. That’s where these came from. It’s nice. I get to expand my vocabulary and hopefully fine new and interesting words to put in my stories. There’s only one drawback to my plan; what if the reader isn’t familiar with the word I’ve used?

I’ve come across a few stores that have used unfamiliar words, and I go and look them up, but that’s me. I love words and their origins, but not everyone is a logophile nor do they want, nor care to take the time to look up what an unfamiliar word means. Most of the time they’ll just skip over it and continue reading, so this begs the question; should you put these rare words into your story?

I guess it all depends on the type of story you’re writing. Some genres, like science fiction, thrive on the unfamiliar, and with historical fiction you can add to the authenticity of the plot by including forgotten words, but I think you have to be careful on the choice you make. No one purposely sets out to annoy their readers, but sometimes, something as small as a word they don’t know or think doesn’t belong, could do just that. Yes, there are people out there who will rail against you if they come across something they feel doesn’t ‘fit’. Go figure.

Now, I’m not saying to NOT put them in either. I know many people appreciate a robust vocabulary when they read, but I believe you need to think about what you really want to get across before you add that unfamiliar word. Will your choice enhance the story? Or will you come off looking like a pretentious twit.
Boffin – noun.
1. informal: (Brit) a scientist, especially one carrying out military research.
2. a person who has extensive skill or knowledge in a particular field.
3. informal: someone who is considered to be very clever.

Williwaw – noun
A violent squall that blows in near-polar latitudes; around the Straight of Magellan, Alaska and Aleutian islands.

Just thought you’d like to know.
So what do you think of unfamiliar words in a story?

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About Darke Conteur
Darke Conteur is a writer at the mercy of her Muse. The author of stories in several genres, she prefers to create within the realms Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy. A pagan at heart, her personal goal it to find her balance within nature; exploring the dark through her stories and the light through her beliefs. When not writing or working with crystals, she enjoys knitting, gardening, cooking and very loud music.

4 Responses to Writers and Prose; Using unique or unfamiliar words.

  1. Yes. Especially since when reading an unfamiliar word, it may appear as a misspelled familiar word. Boffin looks and sound like buffoon, which have opposite meanings.

    Until one writer told me I wasn’t allowed to be a writer because I didn’t know the difference between “wonder” and “wander” I didn’t know they were different words. I just figured they were different spelling differences. In fact, to me, they still mean the same thing. One is just physical, and one mental. And yet, it’s the same process.

    • I’ve gotten some grief from people who say I misspell words, not thinking that because I’m Canadian I would spell them differently. I can’t understand why someone would say that to you. Considering that it’s an interesting way to look at those words.

  2. I don’t mind a few sprinkled in the story. As long as it’s not overdone. I like learning new words but not at the expense of the story.

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