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Thread: How are you with technical words, lingo or broad vocab writers?

  1. #11
    Senior Member Ronald T.'s Avatar
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    Perhaps I'm a bit odd when it comes to this issue, but I love learning about words I'm unfamiliar with. At home, I always have a large dictionary within reach, whether I'm reading a novel or watching TV. I write the word down if I'm away from home and have no immediate resource. Then I check it out later. I find it endlessly exciting to discover new words, and I don't mind the occasional interruption to a book or a TV show if it is a result of expanding my personal vocabulary. I have no problem remembering where I left off. As a writer, I feel a broad vocabulary is an essential tool within my author's toolbox. And I want the benefit of every tool available. It seems a broad vocabulary is a vital part of a writer's skill set if they wish to express themselves with the utmost versatility and range. I only wish I had a greater vocabulary than I already do. But I'm always learning, and for me, that's what is most important.

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    Moderator skip.knox's Avatar
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    I learned as a teenager about words. I cut my science fiction teeth on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells at age 14, so I was all the time running into words I did not know. I read the entire Island of Doctor Moreau and never did know what the heck vivisection was. My family were not readers and there was no dictionary in the house. I just tried to figure words out from context.

    I did not fall in love with the *meaning* of words until I took Latin in college. Once I began to recognize Latin roots, it was like I'd been given the secret decoder ring, and I've been obsessed with etymology ever since.

    The point here (there is a point here, right Skip?) is that we don't know the reading level of our readers. We don't know which words will be mysterious to someone, nor how they'll react when they encounter one. The one guideline I use for myself is not to make the scene depend on the word. If it does, then I have to explain the word. If I make a point of the word, if I draw attention to it, I need to explain it. Otherwise, I'll leave it to the reader to find meaning (or invent it!).

    You may be odd, Ronald T., but not on this issue. ;-)
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    Senior Member Incanus's Avatar
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    Words are a writer's stock in trade, and just interesting on their own. It's one reason I keep a steady diet of reading. I like to have a wide variety of words floating around in recent memory because I never know which one I might need next.

    And for me it goes well beyond medieval nomenclature or specific terms. I like a good mix of verbs and adjectives and even adverbs going all the time as well. Spice it up. Idioms and imagery.
    The anti-Incanus says, "Naturally, I disagree with everything he just said. And I'll always have the last word!"

  4. #14
    Senior Member FifthView's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skip.knox View Post
    I did not fall in love with the *meaning* of words until I took Latin in college. Once I began to recognize Latin roots, it was like I'd been given the secret decoder ring, and I've been obsessed with etymology ever since.
    I'm the same with etymology. "Secret decoder ring" is spot-on for me.

    As reader and writer, I've experienced something of a problem that I like to think about via the metaphor of learning and using a foreign language.

    I studied French for four years, over a couple decades ago, and some Spanish, and to this day, this experience plus my general decades-long interest in etymology, means I can read and somewhat translate from those languages (and even other related languages like Portuguese) far, far better than I can actually speak them. Give me a newspaper, an article, whatever, in these languages, and I can grasp some of what's being said. Drop me in the middle of a foreign country surrounded by native speakers of French or Spanish who don't know English, and I might be able to understand some things being spoken to me—if they speak very slowly, hah. But speak it myself? I'd manage some very basic sentences, but my mind wouldn't come up with the right words for anything complex even if I could first see those words in print and understand them. I think this is pretty normal, a common experience.

    But the same thing happens with English, hah. Reading it or listening to it is one thing, but coming up with it on the spot when writing it or speaking it is a different thing.

    Incidentally, I think this divide affects lots of other areas of writing besides just vocabulary, but that might be a different thread.
    Last edited by FifthView; 3-20-17 at 5:34 PM.

  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald T. View Post
    Perhaps I'm a bit odd when it comes to this issue, but I love learning about words I'm unfamiliar with...It seems a broad vocabulary is a vital part of a writer's skill set if they wish to express themselves with the utmost versatility and range.
    I agree. On the other hand, it's important to remember that not all (or even most) readers are writers.

    I try to limit truly unusual words to places where they'll help the story without bumping the reader. Things such as:

    • Places where they're used in enough context that either the meaning is obvious or the gist of the sentence makes sense without knowing the precise meaning.
    • Words that are going to be used repeatedly, so you don't have to repeat circumlocutions.
    • Words that are also meant to be abstruse in-story (confusing to a character or several, or illustrating that one is a subject matter expert or an erudite showoff or something).



    etc. On the other hand, I don't try to stick to a midget vocabulary, either. But it's often more reasonable to say that something is "box-shaped" than that it's a "cuboid", depending on the context. If that's the case, I won't try to wedge in the fancy word.

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How are you with technical words, lingo or broad vocab writers?   How are you with technical words, lingo or broad vocab writers?   How are you with technical words, lingo or broad vocab writers?