THIS ONE’S FOR WORD LOVERS

(You know who you are!)

Yep, I confess to being an unabashed logophile (lover of words).  (This seldom-used word comes from Greek roots: logos, meaning speech, word, reason; and philos, meaning dear, friendly.) 

Some people are logomaniacs—i.e., obsessed with words. I may be borderline, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet! On the one hand, I do have more than five full shelves of dictionaries, from general ones like Random House and the OED to specialized ones for everything from slang and historical periods to non-American English (e.g., Australian and South African). On the other hand, I can go whole days without even opening one!

Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals

Of course, there is a big difference between being a logomaniac and acrylog. The former are not necessarily loquacious but prefer the mellifluous to the sesquipedalian and can use catachresis rhetorically. The latter are generally more interested in verbiage and tend to commit malapropisms without irony.

Still, I’m gratified to know (according to the Cambridge English Dictionary) that gobby means talks too much. Closely related—but with different nuance—in American English, gabby means excessively or annoyingly talkative.

Recently, I began posting a word a day on FaceBook, just the word, no definition. The only criterion is that it strike my fancy on a given day. But maybe I should theme it.

Uncomfortable Words

These are perfectly good, innocent words that tend to make people squirm. And of course there is a dictionary for that!  The Dictionary of Uncomfortable Words: What to Avoid Saying in Polite (Any) Conversation by Andre Witham and Brian Snyder. Here are a few samples of such words early in the alphabet:

  • Abreast
  • Bunghole 
  • Dong
  • Emission
  • Globule
  • Horehound
  • Arrears
  • Crotch
  • Dangle
  • Feckless
  • Grotty
  • Ball cock
  • Crapulous
  • Elongate
  • Fecund
  • Hocker

Old Words That Deserve a Rerun 

Why be exhausted when you could be ramfeezled or quaked? Why be surprised when you could be blutterbunged?

One of the best dictionaries for these and other old words is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk.

  • Biblioklep: book thief
  • Bouffage: satisfying meal
  • Bruzzle: to make a great to-do
  • Cabobble: to mystify/puzzle/confuse
  • Cark: to be fretfully anxious
  • Fabulosity: the quality of being fabulous
  • Falling weather: rain, snow, hail
  • Flamfoo: a gaudily dressed woman
  • Fleshquake: a tremor of the body
  • Flonker: anything large or outrageous
  • Flurch: a multitude, a great many (things, not people)
  • Gutterblood: people brought up in the same immediate neighborhood
  • Hipshot: strained or dislocated in the hip
  • Leg-bail: run from the law, desertion from duty
  • Nicknackitarian: dealer in curiosities
  • Noggle: to walk awkwardly 
  • Overmorrow: the day after tomorrow
  • Prinkle: tingling sensation
  • Rooped: hoarse, as in bronchitis
  • Scruze: squeeze, compress
  • Smoothery: medicine or salve to remove hair
  • Tazzled: entangled or rough, untidy head of hair
  • Thenadays: in those days, times past
  • Thinnify: to make thin
  • Woman-tired: henpecked
Not to be confused with the Planet Word Museum, in Washington DC.

Words That Are Seldom Seen—or Heard 

I just like them. 

  • Rantipole: a wild, reckless, sometimes quarrelsome person; characterized by a wild, unruly manner or attitude.
  • Solivagant: rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering.
  • Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil. True of many (most?) people, and of all good villainous characters!
  • Noctiphany: something that happens only at night.
  • Skice: to frisk about like squirrels in spring.
  • Lethologicawhen a word is on the tip of your tongue. 
  • Sesquipedalian:

And when it just won’t come in time, you can substitute. Here are some words for an object, event, type of media, abstract concept, or person whose name is forgotten, unknown, or unmentionable. There are regional variations, but some of these seem to be universal.

  • Thingamajig
  • Thingummy
  • Thingamabob
  • Whatchamacallit
  • Whatsit
  • Thingy
  • What’s-his/her-name
  • What’s-his/her-face
  • Doohickey: object or device
  • Doodad
  • Gizmo

And then there are the nuances of words to consider. By this, I mean words that can objectively mean the same thing but create different impressions of age, social class, education, gender, etc. Some words are essentially unintelligible to people outside a particular social group. This is where a good thesaurus comes in handy (or Urban Dictionary). A few examples:

A geographic explanation of why English is so weird
  • Old, aged, elderly, antique, boomer
  • Curvy, overweight, fat, thicc [sic]
  • Whopperjawed, off-kilter, crooked, ill-fitting, skeevy
  • Heart, ticker, vascular organ
  • Tall, high, elevated
  • Angry, upset, ticked, pissed off, aggro
  • Vessel, container, bowl, pot, urn

Writing about words could go on forever.  So I think I’ll wrap this up for now, without even touching on insults and name-calling. Maybe another time.

Bottom line: never too many words.

Betrayed by the Tongue

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher.

Believe it or not, not everyone speaks English as a native language. To strain credulity further, consider that not every character learned English as a native language. Shocking, I know!

But how to convey through written words that a speaker has an accent?

Otto von Chriek, vampire photographer

One method is to transcribe phonetically the way a character speaks, as the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated so well. A vampire in his fantasy universe of Discworld, deliberately emphasizes his accent when he wants to appear odd rather than threatening.

“Vell, I’m not official,” said Otto. “I do not haf zer sword and zer badge. I do not threaten. I am just a vorking stiff. And I make zem laff.”
from Thud! by Terry Pratchett

But what about a subtler signifier of a character’s foreign origins? There could be a million reasons to let your audience know that a character was originally not a member of the “in” group.

  • Signal that a character will have a different cultural perspective when reacting to events.
  • Sign that a character, by virtue of a different upbringing, has insight or expertise others may need.
  • Foreshadowing of any kind of discrimination practiced against a group designated as “others.”
  • Mockery of any slight difference shows the character of the people mocking as well as those standing by and those reacting.
  • Very subtle differences can clue in a reader that something is off, for example a spy or an imposter.

Fortunately for our purposes as writers, English is weird. So many rules have exceptions or no reasonable guidelines of when to apply them…. it’s enough to drive any ESL student mad. If any of these rules (that you probably follow without noticing) are broken, that’s enough to make a reader notice that something is off.

Articles

Should a noun have a definite or indefinite article? Or no article at all? Go ahead and try to explain the rules without looking it up. I’ve been an EFL teacher for years (and occasionally an ESL teacher), and I still mix things up. Like most native English speakers, I tend to rely on what sounds right.

If your non-native English speaker hails from a real country on Earth (as opposed to another planet or a fantasy realm), you can simply have the character follow the rules of their native language. A native French speaker would be likely to overuse articles. A native Russian speaker might skip articles altogether.

Consider these examples:

  • Quick brown fox jumping over lazy dog.
  • The dog, she is lazy. A fox jumps over the dog, no problem.

Of course, if the character learned a language you’ve made up, the rules are entirely up to you.

Word Order

English, like Bulgarian and Swahili, is a SVO language; Subject Verb Object is the typical sentence structure. The meaning of a sentence can be changed simply by changing the word order. The most common word order is SOV– the verb comes at the end of the sentence, after the object. Qartuli and Mongolian are SOV languages.

Other common sentence structures include VSO (Hawaiian), VOS (Malagasy), OVS (Hixkaryana), and OSV (Xavante). Trying to fit English sentences into any of these other structures can create some very awkward conversations.

Just to be contrary, Latin word order makes no difference to the meaning of a sentence and is often jumbled deliberately for poetic effect. (I’m looking at you, Virgil!)

Yoda is one of the most widely known characters who speaks English with inverted word order. Although he has no obvious accent, his speech immediately lets the audience know that he is alien.

Agreement

Some languages have declensions and conjugations and all sorts of ways in which words change form to indicate specifics. Others have separate words to indicate number, tense, intention, etc., though the word itself stays the same. English has both.

Sometimes verbs change when they’re in the past tense (walk-walked); sometimes they don’t (put-put). Just for fun, some verbs change into entirely different words when they change tense (bear-bore).

Nouns are just as bizarre. In kindergarten, the teacher told me I just had to put an S at the end of the word. Then there were geese, children, moose, alumni, crises, and vortices. I still haven’t figured out the rule for the cello.

Naturally, this is an area of difficulty for many people who did not learn English as children. It’s also an area of difficulty for people who have been speaking English since infancy.

Idioms and Connotations

Even if a character speaks English absolutely fluently, there are still a million linguistic tripwires. A native English speaker from Minnesota will still have trouble understanding casual speech in Scotland.

I once watched a Scottish man and a South African man argue about something (I think it was Australian immigration policy, but that’s just a guess). They were mutually unintelligible. As they grew more excited, each slipped further into his native accent and became less understandable by the other. Theoretically, all three of us spoke the same language. In practice, I felt like I was watching a verbal tennis match that gradually turned into frantic hand gestures and facial expressions. It was both surreal and hilarious!

Other Sources

Translators are very useful sources for learning the grammar of a language you don’t know. If you want to have a character be newly arrived in Australia from Siberia, try looking at the translator’s notes in a new edition of War and Peace.

  • Mobi Warren, a translator of Hermitage Among the Clouds by Thích Nhất Hạnh, explained some of the difficulties in translating Vietnamese into English. He wrote, “All this moving between past and present is more easily expressed in Vietnamese, a language in which none of the words have tenses.”
  • Ancient writers can be particularly difficult to translate to modern English, but understanding those difficulties is a great way to highlight changes over time. If you’re trying to invent a language for a fantasy or science fiction setting, try basing the grammar on ancient Egyptian or Shang dynasty Chinese.

Another very useful source for finding ways to indicate non-native English speakers in dialogue is to look at resources for teaching English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language. If other teachers point out an area that’s particularly difficult, odds are that a character you write would have trouble with that same area.

Bottom Line: Lack of fluency is not the same as lack of intelligence. Odd speech patterns imply accents without needing to use odd spelling.

Emojis: Yea or Nay?

hieroglyphs emojis
I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. How can one retain, let alone develop, verbal and written skill if it isn’t practiced? The above image seemed to confirm my opinion: if hieroglyphics were sufficient for purposes of communication, why did other forms develop?
I searched online and did find some support for my original opinion. One study by YouTube (a survey of 2000, ages 16-65) found that 94% believe there has been a decline in the correct use of English, 80% of those saying youngsters are the worse culprits. Over a third of British adults believe that emojis are responsible for the deterioration of the English language—less command of spelling and grammar, due to use of spell check and predictive text. Although emojis convey a message, they breed laziness, diluting language expression. A common prejudice is that an emoji is the equivalent of a grunt, a step back in literacy, making us poorer communicators and maybe even dumber.

 

But all of this reflects what people think or feelWhere are the data? Academic research warns that peppering an email with emojis could harm your job prospects by making colleagues less likely to share information with you. Using emojis in the workplace doesn’t increase perceptions of warmth, it actually decreases perceptions of competence.

 

On the other hand, research commissioned by the dating site Match.com, released in 2017, a survey of 5600 singles found that the more emojis people used in their texts, the more dates—and sex—they have. The inference from this research was that using emojis made it easier for the potential match to gauge the message. Emoji users were concluded to be more effective communicators.

 

Originating on Japanese mobile phones in 1999, they’ve become increasingly popular worldwide since then. When Apple released a set of emojis in 2011, the uptake of emoji took off. Emojis to replicate non-verbal communication are used six billion times a day. Over time, the options to refine a particular emotional expression have increased.

 

When you look back over time, the power of image has always been there. Even prehistoric images such as cave paintings have been incredibly communicative: we can analyze those drawings and understand them thousands of years later. Pictures have the ability to transcend time and language—to be universal.

 

emojis yae nay
In the course of my reading, I found that Alexandre Loktiov, an expert on hieroglyphics and cuneiform legal texts, had this to say: “For me, they’re essentially hieroglyphs and so a perfectly legitimate extension of language. They’re signs which, without having a phonetic value of their own, can ‘color’ the meaning of the preceding word or phrase. In Egyptology, these are called ‘determinatives’—as they determine how written words should be understood. The concept has been around for 5,000 years, and it’s remarkably versatile because of its efficiency. You can cut down your character count if you supplement words with pictures—and that’s useful both to Twitter users today and to Ancient Egyptians laboriously carving signs into a rock stela.”

 

Emojis break down language barriers because people understand what the symbols mean, regardless of their native tongue. Perhaps its possible to learn a lot about a person from their preferred emojis. On the other hand, problems with emojis include cultural differences in the meaning of a given image. For example, two flagrant cases: apparently an eggplant has been taken up as a representative of a penis, a peach as a stand-in for a buttocks. One might inadvertently offend the recipient, even in more subtle ways. Public demand led to the option of modifying skin tone on the emoji.

 

emojis yae nay
[Source: TechCrunch]
In face-to-face interaction, up to 70% of emotional meaning is communicated via nonverbal cues. These include tone of voice, eye gaze, body language, gestures, and facial expression. Vyvyan Evans, an expert on language and digital communication, maintains that the emoji’s primary function is not to usurp language but to fill in the emotional cues otherwise missing from typed conversations.

 

He also had this to say: To assert that emojis will make us poorer communicators is like saying facial expressions make your emotions harder to read. The idea is nonsensical. It’s a false analogy to compare emojis to the language of Shakespeare—or even to language at all. Emojis don’t replace language: they provide the nonverbal cues, fit for the purpose in our digital textspeak, that helps us nuance and complement what we mean by our words.
One thing is sure: emojis are not only an integral part of e-communication. They are embedded in popular culture, and are making inroads in the general culture.

 

  • Over 90% of the world’s 3.2 billion internet users regularly send “picture characters” (as the word means in Japanese) with over 5 billion being transmitted everyday on Facebook Messenger alone.
  • The 2009 movie Moon features a robot who communicates in a neutral-tone synthesized voice plus a screen showing an emoji representing the corresponding emotional content.
  • In 2014, the Library of Congress acquired an emoji version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
  • In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries named the Face with Tears of Joy emoji the Word of the Year.
  • May 2016, Emojiland, a musical, premiered in Los Angeles.
  • October 2016, the Museum of Modern Art acquired the original collection of emojis from 1999.
  • November 2016, the first emoji convention, Emojicon, was held in San Francisco.
  •  In 2016, a High Court judge in England included a smiley face emoji in an official ruling, in an attempt to make the judgment in family court clear for the children it affected.
  • March 2017, the first episode of Samurai Jack featured alien characters who communicate in emojis.
  • April 2017, Doctor Who featured nanobots, called Emojibots, who communicate using emojis only.
  • July 2017 Sony Pictures Animation released The Emoji Movie.
 
 
Alexandre Loktionov (mentioned above) said “. . .we have to think of the purpose of the means of communication, and in the case of emoji, we as a culture need to decide what they are: do we want them to be a bona fide script with full capability, or are they just a tool reserved for very specific purposes (alongside conventional means of writing)?”

 

In conversation with other writers, it seems we/they use emojis for specific purposes, limited entirely to electronic communications. For literary writing, they are irrelevant.
 
Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill.  How do you feel about emojis? If you use them, how?
 

When Less is More

When Less is More
I love this list, even though I now have no idea where I came across it. It beautifully illustrates the value of getting rid of flabby modifiers. “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger.

 

Closely related to this is adding modifiers to terms that have specific meanings. Consider these impossibilities:
  • very unique
  • fast/slow minute
  • quick second
Another search—one that must be done by you or your beta reader—is eliminating unnecessary modifiers. One version of this is linking two words where one would do. For example:
  • tiny little
  • great big
  • quick glance
  • slow saunter
  • quiet whisper
  • loud shout
  • low mumble/mutter
  • loud scream
Other red flag words/phrases are those that pull back or even deny the meaning weakening what’s being asserted. Examples here include:
  • somewhat
  • sort of
If something is somewhat clean, what does that mean? If something is sort of pretty, what should the reader see?

 

These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Across Years and Miles

dark harbor vivian lawry
In 2012 I received a letter from a man I had dated in graduate school. I had not seen or heard from him in decades. He told me that he owned a small villa in northern Italy which he rented during the season but spent time there himself in spring and fall. While there in October, he found a Kindle some renter had left behind. He browsed the library, didn’t recognize titles or authors, but read Dark Harbor. He liked it. He decided to check out the authors. As soon as he saw my website, he recognized me and decided to get in touch.

 

That whole circumstance was so flattering that I told numerous friends and fellow-writers. Who knew my book would make it to Italy? I mention it now because it’s happened again! Only this time with a twist.

 

His letter began, “Dear Ms. Lawry—I‘ve just competed a most pleasurable reading of your novel Dark Harbor. What a cast of suspects! My primary feeling at the end is happiness that the foul victim got what he had coming….[sic]” Then came the twist: “But the principal reason I am writing concerns an unusual document of which you’ll find a copy enclosed.”

 

across years miles
“This turned up on my desk a couple of weeks ago, mixed in with unrelated papers, and caused me to think of the co-author of your book, who composed this page very nearly fifty years ago. I was a student of Professor Gulick’s at Dartmouth, lo these many years ago, and as you will see from this page, he was not only an inspirational lecturer in the realm of sensory psychology but also a droll and vigorous defender of the English language!”

 

In case you can’t read the photo, I will copy what Gulick said about grammar and syntax in writing laboratory reports.

 

Grammar & Syntax
1. Don’t use no double negatives.
2. Make each pronoun agree with their antecedent.
3. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
4. About them sentence fragments.
5. When dangling, watch your participles.
6. Verbs got to agree with their subjects.
7. Just between you and I, case is important.
8. Do not write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
9. Do not use commas, which, are not necessary.
10. Try not to ever split infinitives.
11. Proofread your writing to see if you any words out.
12. Correct spelling is esential.

 

Later in the letter: “I looked in vain for an e-mail address for Professor Gulick… And in [reading Dark Harbor] I discovered your website and blog and your physical address… Hence this letter. I wonder if you would be so kind as to pass this along to Professor Gulick? I hope he might smile over the notion that his little document has endured for so long as both a pedagogical tool and source of chuckles.”

 

Of course I did so. A subsequent email from the letter writer complimented Tiger Heart and asked, “Dare I hope there will be a sequel?” My response was “…thank you again for the compliments on our mysteries. I doubt there will be a sequel. Lawry is approaching his 91st birthday and no longer owns a boat (the prototype for Nora’s boat).  Although he started teaching me to sail in 1995, he was the expert. I’d never sail alone and know no one else with a sailboat at this time. I’ve toyed with the idea of continuing with the cast of characters but making it less water-related. We shall see.”

 

across years miles
This exchange has made me think a lot about language and its evolution. My coauthor had several language preferences that seemed to me old fashioned, among them his preference for ’til over till, and expertness over expertise. I strongly prefer to set priorities rather than prioritize. We both share an abhorrence of the word “data” coupled with a singular verb, as does the letter writer. His sons, both software engineers, “…persist in using the construction ‘data is’…..[sic] I suppose it is so much in use these days as a collective noun more or less equivalent to ‘information’ that this is a battle which I’m not going to win!”

 

And that brings me to Bill Bryson.

 

bill bryson mother tongue
[Source: Goodreads]
I urge every writer to read Bill Bryson’s book Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way. Not surprisingly, it’s about the evolution of English. At some point he writes that people believe that the correct ways to speak, write, and spell are whatever was being taught at the time they finished formal schooling. The language continues to evolve—and every writer should take care that the language is true to the time and place of the story.

Loving Language

When my ship comes in. Getting sacked. Raining cats and dogs. Cut the mustard. Knowing the ropes. Our everyday language is full of phrases we use without thinking of how they came to mean what they mean. But let’s cut to the chase here.

 

qpb encyclopedia word phrase origins
We all know that carouse means to party down, probably with a lot of drinking. But do you know how the word came to be? I didn’t until I read it here. “A ancient Roman goblet used by the Germans was made in the shape of a crouching lion, with the belly as the bowl so that a drinker couldn’t put it down until he finished his wine. This led to the German toast Gar aus!, meaning “Completely out!” or “Drink fully!” when drinkers lifted their goblets. Over the centuries Gar aus eventually became garouse and finally carouse in English, meaning to engage in a drunken revel or to drink deeply and frequently.

 

When it comes to books about language, one is never enough for me. In the past I’ve mentioned Bill Bryson‘s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. There are many other books around about the evolution of language. And while I find them good reads, they really aren’t handy references.

 

brewers dictionary phrase fable
For quick, focused access, look elsewhere. For example, last week I was talking with a friend about how different parts of the country use different words for the same thing, such as bag, sack, or poke. She’d never heard of poke meaning any such thing. That led me to say, “Still common in parts of the south during my childhood. And have you never heard of a pig in a poke?” She hadn’t. And I was unable to explain clearly why that phrase should mean a blind bargain. But Brewer came through for me! “The reference is to a common trick in days gone by of trying to palm off on a greenhorn a cat for a suckling-pig. If he opened the poke or sack he “let the cat out of the bag,” and the trick was disclosed. The French chat en poche (from which the saying may have come) refers to the fact, while our proverb regards the trick. Pocket is diminutive of poke.”

 

The Oxford book gives similar information, but often in less detail. For example, Dutch uncle is defined as “a person giving firm but benevolent advice; the expression is recorded from the mid 19th century, and may imply only that the person concerned is not an actual relative.”
loving language word origins
The Funk book is the opposite. Each entry is quite detailed, and a hair of the dog that bit you gets half a page, beginning “This stems from the ancient medical maxim, Like cures Like—Similia similibus curantur,” and goes on the reference the Iliad and trace the phrase over time.

 

Webster’s Dictionary of Word Origins is much the same, albeit with fewer entries. When it comes to general browsing, these are my favorites!
 
loving language fruitcakes couch potatoes christine ammer
 
Last but not least, let me mention one of the more specialized references. As the cover promises, Ammer’s book is all about food phrases.

 

Delve into the origins of words and phrases. You will find amusement as well as information!

What Writers Can Learn From Diana Gabaldon

learning from Diana Gabaldon
Last Friday I posted “Loving Diana Gabaldon.”  It was general praise and admiration of the sort you might expect from that title. Today I want to cite some specific ways that writers would do well to follow her example. In particular, I will focus on vivid language. We have all heard or read that we should use fresh, vivid language and strong verbs. Here’s how.

 

For one thing, Gabaldon is a very sensory writer.

She uses all the senses, and often more than one in the same sentence or phrase. I notice particularly that she uses smell more often than most.

 

 The following line is made stronger by the unexpected juxtaposition of “smelled delectably” with road dust and sweat.
He smelled delectably of road dust and dried sweat and the deep musk of a man who has just enjoyed himself thoroughly.
Delectable is more expected here, but overall very concrete and specific.
The smell of cut, dry hay was mingled with the delectable scent of barbecue that had been simmering underground overnight, the fresh bread, and the heady tang of Mrs. Bug’s cider.

More sensory details

. . . swept me into an exuberant embrace, redolent of hay, horses, and sweat.
Would I wake again to the thick warm smell of central heating and Frank’s Old Spice? And when I fell asleep again to the scent of woodsmoke and the musk of Jamie’s skin, would feel a faint, surprised regret.
It [cider] was wonderful, a dark, cloudy amber, sweet and pungent and with the bite of a particularly subtle serpent to it.

She describes a white marble mausoleum:

. . . a white smear on the night…

Note strong verb and simile.

. . . his skin shivered suddenly, like a horse shedding flies.
. . . it [hair] was writhing off merrily in all directions, à la Medusa.
Her description of the hair is so much fresher than “flying out in all directions.”
Diana-Gabaldon-quote-blazing-deep-blue-August-sky
. . . kissing me with sun-dusty enthusiasm and sandpaper whiskers.
. . . the lines of his face were cut deep with fatigue, the flesh beneath his eyes sagging and smudged.
. . . I was sloshing back and forth to the kitchen, kicking up the water so it sparkled like the cut-glass olive dish.
. . .they poured into the dooryard, bedraggled, sweat-soaked, and thirsty as sponges.
. . . with thin grizzled hair that he wore strained back in a plait so tight that i thought he must find it hard to blink.
. . . [bread pudding with honey] bursting sweet and creamy on the tongue…
 This simile is much fresher than sober as a judge!
. . . sober as a sheep at the time.
We climbed through a stand of quivering aspen, whose light dappled us with green and silver, and paused to scrape a blob of the crimson from a paper-white trunk.
She merely smiled at that, wide mouth curving in a way that suggested untold volumes of wicked enterprise.

Gabaldon reveals emotions exceptionally well.

 
[Food] had formed a solid mass that lay like iron in his stomach.
…the last of the whisky lighting his blood…
Fear snaked up her spine…
…felt his bones strain in his flesh, urgent with desire to hunt and kill the man…
…goosebumps of revulsion rose on my shoulders…
…a small uneasy feeling skittering down my backbone…
…my mind felt soggy and incapable of thought…
…comforted by the fleshy, monotonous thump [of his heart]…
…a rich tide of color surged into her face…
In A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Gabaldon writes a scene in which Claire is telling Jamie how a hoard of grasshoppers caused her to burn a field of ripe barley. I found it stunning. Here are some of the vivid images from that scene.
Diana Gabaldon quote, flew up like sparks

Advice to Writers

Pick up any book by Diana Gabaldon, read any ten pages, and learn from her language!
Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series, The Fiery Cross

Beware Beautiful Words

Beware Beautiful Words
Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them.

The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk
The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk

One of my personal favorites is dudgeon. In the Chesapeake Bay Mysteries, Van reflected on Nora being truly formidable when in high dudgeon. And from my rural Ohio roots, I like caddywampus and whopperjawed (both of which mean, basically, out of kilter or poorly constructed) as well as redd, as in redd up the table (meaning clear away or make ready).

 

Belly-pinched, meaning starving

 

Blutterbunged, meaning confounded or overcome by surprise

 

Brownstudy, meaning gloomy meditation or distraction

 

Bruzzle, to make a great to-do

 

Cabobble, to mystify, confuse, or puzzle

 

Davering, wandering aimlessly or walking dazed

 

Fabulosity, meaning  being fabulous or telling lies

 

Falling-weather,rain, snow, or hail

 

Flamfoo, a gaudily dressed woman, a clothes horse

 

Flurch, a great many (things, not people)

 

Fuzzle, to make fuzzy or indistinct with drink

 

Greasy tongue, a flatterer

 

Heart-quakes, exactly what it sounds like

 

Hipshot, sprained or dislocated him

 

Nightfoundered, lost the way in the dark

 

Noggle, to walk awkwardly

 

Prinkle, a tingling sensation in the skin, gooseflesh?

 

Quanked, overcome by fatigue

 

Smoothery, ointment or medicine to take away hair

 

Squiggle, to slosh liquid around the mouth with the lips closed

 

Stepmother-year, a cold, unfavorable year

 

Tazzled, rough untidy hair

 

Teaty-wad, a lump of damp sugar in a twist of cloth to quiet an infant when the mother is unavailable to feed

 

Thinnify, to make thin

 

Thrunched, very angry or displeased

 

Unlicked, unpolished or unkempt

 

Woman-tired, henpecked

 

Advice to Writers

If you choose to use colorful, unusual words such as these, use each only once in a given story or novel. They will be noticed. The only exception is would be when a given word is a speech tag for a given character.

 

Not to worry. The world is full of rich language, plenty to go around!