My wordy Valentine

I might be making a huge assumption here, but as writers we must all be fond of words, especially their ability to evoke a certain feeling or express an idea that’s formed in our heads.

Where would we be without words?

I’m a week late for Valentine’s Day, but this post is my public declaration of love for words. And I have one particular favorite word: serendipity.

Serendipity refers to the accidental discovery of something good. I love it for its meaning and its sound. It also reminds me of the first time I heard it applied to life.

When I was 14, I started my first day of high school eager for more challenging and interesting classes. I walked into my biology class full of a love of science and a desire to one day be a doctor. Written across the white board in massive letters was the word SERENDIPITY. Our teacher started the year by explaining that most of our scientific knowledge was based on serendipity. She illustrated the point by telling us the story of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

I also love the story of how the word was coined. There is an old Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip – ‘Serendip’ being an old word for Sri Lanka, meaning “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.  Horace Walpole called it “a silly fairy tale…as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” This story led him to coin the word serendipity in a letter in 1754.

See? Great stories are made of great words, but great words also are made of great stories.

What’s your favorite word? Do you like it because it evokes a memory, a feeling? Is it the sound you like? Is it the etymology? The meaning?

Differences in British and American English (for writers)

Pop quiz.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

1. The Ireland rugby team are playing today, so my husband will be glued to the TV.

2. If I hadn’t got up so late, I would’ve got the bus.

3. I’m going to work at the weekend.


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Speaking of accents

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties involved in writing characters who don’t have the same accent you do. In that post, I wrote that one of my biggest pet peeves is “dialecty” words, which especially seem to plague Scottish characters.

Yesterday, Jane at Dear Author prompted a great discussion on the same topic – go read “Dinna Fash Yerself Lassie (and Other Dialect Crimes)”. Part of the discussion in the comments was about the incredible number of British accents, compared to American ones.

Today a friend forwarded me this video, which is pure genius.

Warning: Contains naughty language. If watching at work, for the love of puppies please wear headphones.

How many of these accents could you write?

Save the words!

Here’s a little language quiz for you.

1) How many words do you think the English language has?

KexyI lost count at 157, so fortunately I was able to put my Googling skills to the test and discovered the Oxford English Dictionary has full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

But if you add derivitive words and words that have multiple uses (like words that can be a noun and a verb), then they estimate English has at least a quarter of a million distinct words (find out more about how they counted).

2) How many of those words do we actually use?

Being from southern California, there are three words that form the bulk of my communication: awesome, cool, and brill.

According to my new absolute favoritest website EVER, (, we only use 7,000 words to communicate 90% of everything we write.

What tragedy! How boring! And repetitive!

Save the Words says:

Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language.

Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.

Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.

You can change all that. Help save the words!

So I’m helping spread the word. The word for today is pregnatress (n.): female power that generates or gives birth to something

I want to be the pregnatress of language, so I urge you to learn a new word today. Their website is chock-a-block with words – some gorgeous, some silky-smooth, and some so repugnant you’ll feel nauseous (mingent and gleimous, I’m looking at you).

Here are some I’ll be able to slip into my everyday speech:

crassulent – very fat, overweight, grossly obese
viliorate – to become less good; to deteriorate
boreism – behaviour of a boring person
snollygoster – shrewd, unprincipled person
lubency – willingness; pleasure

Go visit their site and then come back here to tell me your favorite new words.

Prune your prose

Speaking of being overly wordy, here’s an online workshop that my RWA chapter is running soon.

It’s as if they’ve been reading my blog and came up with the class just for me. Thanks, guys.

***** Permission to Forward Granted *****

RWA® Online Chapter presents:

PRUNE YOUR PROSE! Ten Tips to Tighten Your Fiction Writing
Instructor: Linnea Sinclair
August 16th – 29th, 2010
Registration Period: August 2-15, 2010
Fee: $15 Non-Chapter members. RWAOL Chapter #136 members; free.
Payment method: PAYPAL is recommended!

Continue reading “Prune your prose”