Posted in An Authors Thoughts

Big Words, Little Words, They’re All Good …

Big Words ~ Little Words

Here’s something probably a little too deep on a weekday to ponder, but here goes. While we are busily creating our enchanting worlds on paper or on a computer, are we obligated to use only words to engage the average reader, and leave the 50 cent versions to the academics? The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve been told that I use too many big words when smaller ones would be sufficient. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow, I, like many of you, have adhered to that philosophy, or rule, or guideline–whatever it is–and avoided the use of those 50 centers like the plague, unless it’s a medical or technical term, and then I explain through the narrative or dialogue. I certainly don’t want to frustrate my readers, or make them feel like they have to drag out the old OED or dust off the Webster’s just to read my little mystery. How annoying. How cumbersome.

the buildingblocksof lifeOkay, so I’m guilty as charged for fudging that just a wee bit. You know, taking a nip here and there, in this chapter or that one, savouring the beauties like sipping on a single malt whiskey, and feeling the glow of the word slide down my throat. Words, the dram of life. Sigh. Yes, my editor has been known to make a word suggestion if my hand is too heavy while indulging the word monger in me, and rightfully so. And, I am thankful, appreciative. She’s my conscience. She has the magic finger she can stick in the air and know which direction the wind is blowing and how hard. However, isn’t there just a snippet of resentment nesting somewhere inside all of us that just wants to scream to the world, “You should know this word! Dadgumit! Buy a dictionary!”

We don’t want to be that person. You know the one; the condescending intellectual snob. You’ve seen them at parties, hanging out in coffee bars, and they use an excessive amount of beige in decorating. Those people use large words like toilet paper. How discombobulating. (See!) We should run from that kind of narcissism, and sprint toward clarity. Besides, readership would positively fall off a cliff.

star trekThere is a line we can waltz up to and not cross, kind of like the Neutral Zone in Star Trek between the Federation and the Klingons. We can hang out there in our starship, and gaze out at the stars, drinking in the majesty of the universe of words. Being a wordsmithy there are so many lovely words out there that actually send shudders of light through my brain, and trail down my spine in seizure-like spasms. Their beauty resonates in specifics, with scalpel-like slices of meaning. The little guy may be too general, easily misinterpreted, and it might draw the reader into a different direction. In a mystery, this could murder it. What to do? Compromise. Use the big guy when it matters, gently define it, don’t beat the reader over the head with a dictionary. Readers are there to have fun, and learn one or two things.

babylon 5Rather than the Star Trek analogy, I could have used Babylon 5, another science fiction television show. (I love that show!) As an analogy, the term Hyperspace in that series is more specific to the word problem we face. In the series, Hyperspace is used to travel more quickly through vast portions of space, using jump gates. However, the down side is you must have a specific direction to make the appropriate gate in order to get out of Hyperspace, and on toward the area of the galaxy you want to travel. If you don’t you could die, drifting off into the vastness of Hyperspace, never to be seen or heard from again. The point is that big words must have purpose and direction to be used effectively. Let it roll out so the meaning can be divined from the context, and use them sparingly.

Don’t drift off into Hyperspace. I’d miss you. Really. May the Force be with you. Wait, isn’t that another scifi..

Noir Psychological Mystery
Noir Psychological Mystery

Cheri Vause, Writer/Novelist
The Night Shadow ~ Book Series

 the buildingblocksof life



NOIRE MYSTERIES of Chéri Vausé - Chéri Vausé begins all her stories with just one dangerous word. She writes Noir, but she also writes SF, Horror, Gothic, Literary, and Rom Com. After teaching theology for more than 25 years, she retired to write full-time, and has recently broke into the short story market. Her first is Black Monday, in the Wildside Press' Anthology, DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of Eclipse. Cheri lives in Central Texas on a small ranch with her husband, two dogs, and four ducks.

3 thoughts on “Big Words, Little Words, They’re All Good …

  1. This is perhaps my most favorite post of yours yet. The whole “buy a dictionary” part had me rolling!

    I love the way some words feel in my mouth, or even how they resonate in my brain. Looking something up in a dictionary, for me, was never a chore, it was always an adventure. Figuring out how it was spelled. Trying to sound it out. Finding the word, finally! And then the conclusion of the adventure…the eureka moment! Afterwards being able to bask in and marvel in the words many connotations and uses.

    I made the horrible horrible mistake once of telling an Ex to “look it up”. He was horrified at me that I would suggest something so tedious and chore like. I nievely thought it would be our little adventure. Like the joy I would get while watching Jeeves & Wooster with a dictionary in hand. I had to profusely apologize over and over, explaining to him I was not insulting or degrading, I just never saw the dictionary as the root of all evil. The look on my Ex’s face as I tried to climb my way out of this word hole I dug myself into, was as if I had murdered puppies in front of him, then asked him to help me with the additional killing of a box of kittens.

    But maybe, just maybe I feel this way because I had a mom who so brilliantly taught me the love of words. 😉


    1. I love your analogy. Unfortunately, our present culture has been reduced to only learning creative uses for the F-word rather than learning English. Perhaps the dictionary has become the ghost that haunts people like your Ex, that poltergeist that might throttle him if he doesn’t learn what a word really means. So, he runs from it, terrified that he might learn something and he would slip in front of his friends, using the word that might make him look intelligent. Maybe he fears it might possess him and he could actually use words that have true meaning, ousting the expletives now occupying his soul. Whatever the reason, writers should elevate rather than contribute to the debasing of our culture. But that’s my opinion, and I could be wrong (as Dennis Miller used to say).


      1. I do agree that the overuse of any words, be they small or large, can be off putting, especially by that dreaded beige person. Like your editor seems to so gloriously understand, there is a happy medium. And in that happy medium lies the glorious mouth watering words, and their sweet little friends.


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