Slashing Syllables


That tears it. When not one, not two, but three to five friends tell me I use a lot of big words in my books, I have to throw up my hands and fess up.
I am a big-word fiend.
Not a big word SNOB.
Don’t think I mean to make you think I am smart.
I’m not, you know. Smart, that is.
But words are SO GREAT.
Some are JUST RIGHT.
Why not, I think, use one big word if it fits? If it says what I want to say?

Now I know why. Folks don’t like the big words. At least not the way I use them. Not in the light weight books I write about love and crime and snow and dogs.
I hear you.

So as of this date I turn o’er a new leaf.
I vow to tone down the length and breadth and width of the terms I use in the books I write.
I shall look at each word.
If it won’t pass the snob test I pledge to slash and burn. To pare down to words that make the heart glad of each gal (or guy) who reads my work. Words that don’t tax the brain past where it wants to be taxed.

Of course, I would not have known how vexed folk can get, had not I asked some of those good folks to proof read my tales (those not yet in book form). They seemed to think I have a poor chance that these tales get put to print lest I cut the fluff of out sized words.

So it starts. I wrote this blog post to work on my vow to toss those big words. Only one beat per word. Feel free to proof read. Did I miss some long words? Are some still so big that you must clap twice or more as you read each one?
Give me your feed back. Please. Feel free, too, to use words with more than one beat. ‘Cuz it is quite tough to keep those beats down to one. Trust me on that.

(I made free with the name of this post. A two beat word and a three beat word. At times, one must be kind to ones self.)

10 thoughts on “Slashing Syllables

    • I’m telling you, Living Pencil. First it was adverbs. Then semicolons. Now big, beautiful, plus-sized words. Where will it stop?
      I will haul out ‘indefatiguable’ as soon as I know how to say it.

    Big words, especially ones that send readers flying to the dictionary, are distracting from the story UNLESS they’re appropriate to the character. And even then they have to be lightly sprinkled for flavor. The only author I forgive for $5 words is Anna Quindlen because she worked for the New York Times and readers expect big words from her. But even she has no more than about one whopper every two pages.
    It’s not the length of the word so much as the obscurity or level of use.
    “Indefatigable” is a perfect example…”tireless” would be the right word most often.
    👏 (That’s applause, not counting beats!)

      • Christine, of course you are correct about indefatigable. Tireless gets the job done without breaking a sweat.

        But. My preference is to learn words and to read authors who expand my vocabulary. I especially like when the context gives clues and the reader doesn’t need to look the word up.

        I read every book with little flags in my hand. When I see a quote I want to copy, or a word I don’t know, I flag it and keep reading. Later I come back and review what I’ve flagged. I am weird, though.

      • People who kvetch about unfamiliar words — as in, unfamiliar to them — are probably just lazy. That’s actually the most charitable explanation I can come up with for it. How on earth do they think they learned the words they know and use all the time? Every word was once unfamiliar. It became familiar because you found out what it meant and how to use it, and when you did, it ended up enriching your ability to read, speak, write, think, and comprehend. Refuse to learn new words, and you handicap yourself needlessly — not to mention that you also miss out on a lot of fun.

        p.s. I wrote a story once about a high school English teacher who tried to persuade her students of the value of expanding their vocabularies. The way she did it was by requiring them to write an account of some event from their lives that was particularly exciting or meaningful or transformative. After all the stories had been handed in, graded, and given back to the students, the next assignment was to write the same story again, but employing only words of one syllable. I see you had the same idea! 🙂

  2. Anita. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. I lament. And… if you can manage to use the big ‘uns less frequently AND STILL KEEP YOUR WRITING VOICE, fine. But don’t sacrifice your voice.
    AND… always have at least one character whose character is to use those words!

  3. I’m weighing in with Robin. Maybe one character per story who uses big words. The bottom line is the narrator voice, and then individual character voices. Words should flow naturally and not call attention to themselves, unless that’s what the character/narrator would normally say.

    Sometimes those bigger words fit perfectly in the context and are understood, even if the reader doesn’t know the dictionary definition. So the right big words add spice and personality–as long as your readers don’t have to be checking the dictionary every other page.

    • It’s funny. I was either too lazy and/or too caught up in stories when I was younger to stop and look up the “big words.’ BUT I could almost always catch the meaning from the context, and while my vocabulary could be vastly improved, I do know the meanings of many, many words because the authors used them so well. maybe I just need to work on using them more skillfully!

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