Friday, June 3, 2011

Lexiconic pontifications

Words are the number one tool of the writer. Without words there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no chapters, and ultimately, there are no books. Sometimes the biggest problem of a writer is coming up with the right word for the situation. But this post is not about word choice deliberation. Or, at least, not in such a straightforward manner.

I have a question. How do you feel about using difficult vocabulary in books?

I'm specifically referring to the vocabulary found in YA and adult books. Why? Because most of the people reading them appear to have a fairly stagnant word bank.

That's right. Younger readers are encouraged to learn new words all of the time. But, teens and adults don't actively try to improve their vocabulary and, thus, the average reading level of adults in the United States is somewhere in the 8th-9th grade range.

I'm asking because a lot of people think challenging vocabulary is obnoxious--especially when there's a lot of it. Sure, the Kindle has made this less of an issue thanks to its dictionary function, but not many people have e-readers and not every word is in the dictionary (ie: foreign words).

Now I think that writers should feel free to use whatever words they want. The instant you start paring down your vocabulary to accommodate people, your story suffers. You have to write what you feel--what fits with the book. For example, what would a story in a cake shop be without mention of fondant?

However, you must be aware of your audience at the same time. No one wants to look up a word every five sentences. Make it easy to infer your meaning. Also, you definitely shouldn't be using complex vocabulary in picture books.

So what do you think about words like luxuriate and mien? Do you want to see them in a book? Or should writers try to limit their vocabulary? Do you think that writers threaten to alienate their audience or muddle the meaning of their stories through certain word usage? Tell me what you think in the comments!


Katja Rinne said...


Kindle has an inbuilt dictionary. *picks up her Kindle*

Well what do you know. :D Thank you for that. Once more my life is a bit easier.

I don't mind if there's some new words in the book. Usually I'm even
expecting some. I agree, that if there's too many such words it will
snap me out of the story, and I doubt any author would want to do that.
So the best way to do it in my opinion, would be to use the words in
contexts where you can figure out what the word means without having to
check it.

Jackie said...

My thoughts exactly!  I don't mind rich vocabulary words in context.  But, the moment I have to set the book down, pick up a dictionary, flip through it to find the word, I get annoyed.  I guess I have lazy reader tendencies.  But, too me, it's as frustrating as someone trying to talk to me when I am trying to read.

But, I notice when I am reading on my Nook, I don't mind having to look a word up as much.

Sarah Robertson said...

Haha, I'm definitely with the both of you. I've never actually bothered to look up words though, so I guess I'm the ultimate lazy reader--if I can infer the meaning then I don't care. ^_^

Annerb said...

I agree with you on some level. I think writers should use whatever they feel comfortable with, but maybe try to extend their boundaries some. It's a good thing, in the end. A reader will most likely be able to figure out a working definition of the word in question from context anyway. So it helps them too.

However, I think the best writers use a regular vocabulary cleverly. They take normal words and use them in creative and imaginative ways that they haven't been used before. That's what I always find myself drawn to in others' writing.

Sarah Robertson said...


I guess my issue is mostly that I've gotten grief for using vocabulary words that aren't the norm? Which is annoying. But yes, I definitely agree that using old words in new ways is beest. :P

Annerb said...

I can see that with you. You have a good working vocabulary. Way better than most. I always love you using nice words (which, I may not have spoken aloud before - mostly I just complain about you being better than me). Don't feel annoyed!

Sarah Robertson said...


Aww, I'm glad someone likes my vocabulary! *hug*

Annerb said...

I do! I do!

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