My friend and colleague Kathleen Corcoran sent me an archaic word.

  • Spuddle (v)
    • To work feebly and ineffectively because your mind is elsewhere or you haven’t quite woken up yet.
    • To make a lot of fuss about trivial things, as if it were important.
    • To work tirelessly without achieving anything of worth. To put in a great deal of effort and achieve only very little.
    • To loosen and dig up stubble and weeds left after a harvest with a broadshare or similar device.

I took one look at it and said, “That’s got to be one of the best, most useful words ever!” Indeed, I’ve been spuddling for years.

So began my search for old, forgotten, seldom used, and archaic words and phrases that need to take (or retake) their rightful places in our written and the spoken vocabularies.

Autophoby (n) Fear of referring to oneself, usually exhibited by a reluctance to use the pronouns I or me.

Balderdash (n) Spoken or written nonsense.

Blithering (adj) Complete; utter (Used to express annoyance or contempt, as in “a blithering idiot.”)

Bloviate (v) To speak in a pompous or overbearing way. (Made popular by Pres. Warren G. Harding.)

Caddywonked (adj) Southern slang for sideways, unconventional, askew.

Caddywompus/cattywampus (adj) Variations of catawampus, meaning askew, diagonal, first recorded in the 1830-1840s.

Catty-cornered (adj) Diagonally opposite someone or something

Flagitation (n) The act of asking or demanding with great passion; begging.

Clishmaclaver (n) Idle talk; gossip.
(chiefly Scottish)

Conniption (n) Informal, meaning a fit of rage

Crackbrained (adj) extremely foolish; crazy; insanely irresponsible.

Embrangle (v) To entangle, mix up, confuse, perplex. Embranglement, the noun form.

Flapdoodle (n) Nonsense; a fool

Flexanimous (adj) Having the power to influence, move, affect

Gabble-monger (n) Gossip

Hoik (v) To move or pull abruptly; yank.
(also a wild hook shot in cricket)

Lollop (v) to move in an ungainly way, in a series of clumsy paces or bounds.
(n) A person or animal who moves in such a way.

Mizzle (n) Light rain or drizzle.

Skellington (n) A skeleton

Percolation (n) The process of something spreading slowly.

Pilgarlic (n) Literally “peeled garlic” the word is used for a bald person or a person held in amused contempt or treated with mock pity.

Runnel (n) A narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through; a crook or rill; a small stream of a particular liquid, e.g., a runnel of sweat.

Sitooterie (n) A summerhouse or gazebo; also an out-of-the-way place to sit with your partner at a dance (or other event).

Skiwapiddy (adj) Crooked, off-kilter

Stramash (n) Disturbance or racket.
(chiefly Scottish)

Taradiddle (n) Petty lie, nonsense.

Trug (n) A shallow basket made from strips of wood for carrying flowers or vegetables.

Ultra-crepidarian (n) A person who expresses opinions on things outside the scope of his/her knowledge or expertise. Can also be an adjective.

Whinge (v) To complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way.

Bottom Line: Linguists say you can make any word, even an obscure or archaic word, your own by repeating it aloud five times and using it in a sentence every day for a week.


Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.

As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.

In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!


Carat and Carrot and Caret and Karat
Pi Pie!

Today I feel like playing with words! Considering the history of the English language, it’s no wonder there are so many strange juxtapositions in our syllables. An easy illustration is lay and lei: one from Proto-Germanic and one from Hawaiian.

English is not the only language with homophones and homographs, of course. German, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin are notorious for wordplay based on homophones and homonyms. The language with the most homonyms might be Rotokas, spoken by the people of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. There are only 150 possible syllables, so each syllable gets a lot of use!


I’ll start with homophones, words that sound the same but are different in meaning or spelling. I’ve chosen words that are both! Here, in no particular order are some examples. (This is by no means an exhaustive list. Check here or here for many more examples!)

Colonel and Kernel

Can you use all the variations in a single sentence that makes sense?

Ewe and Yew
Fairy/ Faerie and Ferry
Key and Quay

There are many pairs of homophones (some estimate as many as 6,000!), but some syllables work extra hard and mean three or more different things. Again, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list.

Bawled and Balled and Bald
Furze and Furs and Firs

Some homophones are dependent on the speaker’s accent. Words that sound the same in Johannesburg may be entirely different in Toronto.

Floor and Flower and Flour

If you really want to go crazy, consider raise, rays, rase, rehs, res, réis, and raze.

  • Rase is a verb meaning “to erase”
  • Rehs is the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India
  • Réis is the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil
  • Res is the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale
Hair and Hare


Then there are homographs, words that are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. I’ve focused on the former here.

  • Bar as in drinking place, bar as in fasten the door, bar as in fastener or weapon
  • Part as in separate, part as in a piece of something
  • Snuff as in tobacco product, snuff as in smothering a candle flame
  • Yen as in Japanese currency, yen as in a desire
  • Clear as in weather, clear as in clean up
  • Foot as in body part, foot as in length
  • Wind as in moving air, wind as in turning something
  • Chair as in furniture, chair as in run a meeting
  • Stand as in get up, stand as in take a stand, stand as in piece of furniture
  • Case as in luggage or box, case as in court case
  • Bit as in took a bite of, bit as in horse harness, bit as in small amount
  • Swallow as in ingest, swallow as in bird
  • Pot as in vessel, pot as in plant, pot as in marijuana
  • Ring as in jewelry, ring as in bell
  • Wire as in piece of metal, wire as in electrical work, wire as in telegraph
  • Dig as in make a hole, dig as in “like it”
  • Bow as in bend from the waist, bow as in front of a boat
  • Stern as in firm, stern as in back of a boat
  • Park as in outdoor space, park as in leave a vehicle
  • Ear as in body part, ear as in corn
  • Second as in time, second as in between first and third 
Bark and Bark

Many of these homographs are variations from a single word origin, and their various meaning can be traced back. If you want to wander down an internet rabbit hole, try looking up the etymology of homophones.

  • Walk from the Proto-Indo-European root “wel-” meaning “to turn or revolve
    • Travel on foot
    • A pathway along which one might travel on foot
  • Pregnant from Latin “praegnantem” meaning “before birth
    • Person who is with child
    • Tense pause (full of meaning)
  • Plate from Proto-Indo-European root “plat-” meaning “to spread
    • Flat sheet of metal that holds food
    • Flat sheet of very thin metal coating an object so it looks like gold or silver
    • Layer of the planet’s mantle holding continents, floating on magma
  • Secretary from Medieval French “secretarie” meaning “confidant, someone entrusted with secrets
    • Administrative assistant
    • Officer
    • Type of desk used by a secretary
  • Port from Proto-Indo-European root “prtu-” meaning “passage
    • Wine variety originating from the Portuguese city Oportus
    • Place where boats anchor
    • Left side of a ship when facing forward from the stern
    • Medical appliance installed under the skin
  • Book from Proto-Germanic “bōk(ō)-” meaning “the part of a beech tree used to make tablets for written documents
    • Reading material
    • Make a reservation (originally marked in a book, now more likely kept on a tablet)
  • Table from Latin “tabula” meaning “small flat slab, usually for inscriptions or games
    • Furniture for holding meals or other objects
    • List of numbers and figures
    • To enter into return to a list
  • Lift from Proto-Germanic “luftijan” meaning “to elevate”
    • Pick up
    • Elevator
    • Giving a ride
Port and Port and Port and Port

Homographs (non-homophonic)

And then there are homographs that are spelled the same but differ in pronunciation as well as meaning. How many of these do you recognize?

  • Wind
  • Buffet
  • Minute
  • Bow
  • Bass
  • Evening
  • Coordinates
  • Proceeds
  • Does
  • Axes
  • Agape
  • Putting
  • Moped
  • Tear
  • Wound
Double Bass

In many cases, only a shift in stress from one syllable to another indicates whether the word functions as a noun or a verb. As with many elements of the English language, this “rule” has many exceptions.

  • Attribute
  • Produce
  • Refuse
  • Frequent
  • Discharge
  • Second
  • Entrance
  • Digest
  • Interchange
  • Content
  • Advocate
  • Discount
  • Contract

And just to increase your vocabulary one more time: homonyms can be either or both!

Bottom Line: It’s no wonder people have difficulty learning English as a second language!

Mince and Mints
(Do not confuse these two in recipes!)


(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.


Sometimes, it’s fun just to fool around with language. Word play comes in wide variety, of course. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are famous (infamous?) for their clever manipulation of the English language. Way back before the English language settled into its modern form, Geoffrey Chaucer turned Middle English into his personal plaything.

Anagrams and whimsical stories are two of my favorites because they require nothing but an awake brain! However, for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll write them out.


For anagrams, think of a word—longer is better—and then see how many other words can be made from those letters. Whether plurals or contractions are allowed is up to the player! For example, thanksgiving. The options here are limited by the fact that there is no E, the most frequently used letter in the English language. 

  • thanks
  • thank
  • sang
  • snag
  • nag
  • than
  • tan
  • gnat
  • kin
  • king
  • stag
  • stank
  • stink
  • ink
  • skin
  • sin
  • gas
  • tank
  • tang
  • aging
  • staging
  • thigh
  • tights
  • thighs
  • knights
  • night
  • thanking
  • kings
  • hats
  • giving
  • gating
  • knit
  • ask
  • at
  • an
  • as
  • in
  • asking
  • ski
  • skiing
  • vast
  • gist
  • hat
  • scathing
  • gangs
  • hating
  • shit
  • hit
  • has
  • having
  • task
  • nights
  • hank
  • hang
  • sing
  • ailing
  • tin
  • vat
  • shank
  • shiv
  • shaving
  • van
  • shag
  • shank
  • gash
  • this
  • task
  • scat
  • tasking
  • thinking
  • his
  • has
  • hag
  • hit
  • tat
  • stat
  • sighing
  • sighting
  • tag
  • sag
  • sagging
  • gin
  • thin
  • think
  • gang
  • sting
  • shag
  • sank
  • hag
  • sink
  • shin
  • saving
  • hint
  • gag
  • skit
  • shining
  • gait
  • having
  • gas
  • it
  • sting
  • singing
  • angst
  • sigh

Story Word

One way I like to launch into writing whimsy is to find a word and ring as many changes on it as I can. Here’s one such piece. 

Writers note: this is not the sort of writing that would pass muster in a class or critique group! It’s an example of writing fun, not good writing!


Abelia hates her name. She is forever telling people not to call her Abby, abby being altogether too descriptive for comfort. All her adult life she’s longed to abolish her belly, but she’s seldom succeeded even in abbreviating her abs. They are aboriginal.

Today she is at that abattoir they call a fitness center. She abhors the place, and cannot walk through the door without sinking into abjection. But so strong is her wish for an absolution, she puts her abhorrence in abeyance and follows the yellow brick abscissa to the abs machine. The results are abysmal. After fifteen minutes, she abandons the effort.

The trainer shrieks, “It’s too soon for you to abscond!”

Everyone stares and Abelia is abashed, wishing fervently for an alien abduction. She wishes she were abalone, or perhaps an abstract painting, anything but abnormally abby. She no longer counts leg raises and crunches. She knows they’re absurd. Her abs are absolutely aberrant, an abomination she wishes absent. If she were royalty, she’d have to abdicate. She considers ablation but decides to abstain. The pitfalls of surgery are not abstruse.

Her therapist says, “There’s absolutely nothing abnormal about your abdominals!” She points out that Abelia’s absorption has become an abstraction. “You must abjure that.”

Abelia takes the advice of her high abbess of health, vowing that from this day forward, she will abrogate concern for her abs and embrace abundance. She dons a flowing silk abba  in red, gold and purple. No more abstemiousness. No more abstinence. No more abnegation.

Bottom line: When you just want to unwind or jolt some creativity, consider word play!

Word Wealth

oxford dictionaries

You may know that I love dictionaries! Indeed, I have four shelves of dictionaries that look much like the above—only less photogenic! And I’ll tell you right up front that my goal for today is to turn your liking for dictionaries into loving. After all, words are the building blocks of stories, the most basic tool of the craft. And dictionaries contain a wealth of information.
dictionary definition

Why one dictionary isn’t enough:

1. Language is constantly evolving. New words are added every year. So, depending on the time when you set your story, you may need an “age appropriate” dictionary. The current vocabulary is so important that books that are not actual dictionaries nevertheless have sections on language, books such as Everyday Life In The Middle Ages, Everyday Life in Colonial America, etc. The timeliness of language is particularly true for slang. Heaven forbid you should drop “far out” (meaning extraordinary or bizarre in the 1960s) into a story set in the 1950s. And there are dictionaries for that!


dewdroppers waldos slackers
2. Language varies by occupation or profession. I have dictionaries that focus on war slang by war, a dictionary of jargon by profession, a dictionary of mob speak.


3. Language is regional as well as time specific. I have dictionaries of American English (so labeled), Australian English, and South African English—and there are probably more out there reflecting English as spoken around the world. But some, such as Yankee Speak, are much closer to home. How To Speak Southern, published in 1976, may be dated (or not) depending on when your story happens. But in any case, it’s short and worth a read just for the laughs.


4. Using archaic words can spice up your writing as long as the context makes the meaning clear. For example, biblioklept (meaning book thief), fleshquake (a tremor of the body), or crop-lifting (to steal a crop of standing grain).


word museum
5. Actually—and perhaps not surprisingly—I especially like dictionaries of weird words. Where else would one come across words like “nihilarian” (meaning a person who deals with things of no importance)?
weird wonderful words
Of course, one person’s “no importance” is another person’s passion! So a character using that label/word says a lot about the speaker. Indeed, a character who’s makes a habit of using esoteric words is rich with possibilities!


word wealth
6. And then there are common, easily understood words that are seldom used. Some of these are very personal. For example, my high school English teacher had an explicitly stated aversion to the word “bother” and urged saying “it isn’t” rather than “it’s not” because the latter sounded too much like snot. Consider dropping uncomfortable words into your narrative and/or dialogue to create a bit of unease or tension in the reader, and/or to characterize your character. Consider your—or your character’s—uncomfortable words.


7. Why not just look words up online? Now this is getting personal to me. If you need to check the spelling and/or definition of a particular word, the internet is quick and dirty—i.e. efficient. The problem (in my opinion) is that you get what you ask for. With a physical dictionary, you can easily tumble into reading nearby entries. So you look fulminate (criticize harshly) and wander into fulsome (sickening or excessive behavior)—and there’s a whole new adjective you can use!
Bottom line: We all know writers read. Try reading a dictionary or two!

Research Roundup

research: library

Love Your Research 

I can’t imagine a writer without some tools of the trade, even if those are only a good dictionary and a thesaurus, preferably a good manual of style as well. I share a few of my favorite resources.

Writers on Writingwriting 101: love your research

There are lots of ways to get inside writers’ heads.

Bicycle History to Celebrate UCI Road World Championships 

When my interest is piqued, of course I turn to research.

Books for Writers: Deborah Tannen 

Deborah Tannen has published numerous books that might be of interest to writers.

On Writing by Stephen King book cover
Stephen King’s On Writing

Dictionary of American Regional English 

Somewhere in my public life, I mentioned that I collect dictionaries. I have whole shelves of them, everything from slang to carnival jargon to common usage during the Civil War to books of insults and dirty words. I ordered all six volumes of the Dictionary of American Regional English—and then thanked my husband for his birthday present to me.

Wonderful Words 

I was much taken with Ammon Shea’s book, Reading the OED, a memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary.

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.


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!