1. OmarZ
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    OmarZ Member

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    Is using easy terms a deficiency?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by OmarZ, Oct 13, 2013.

    Hi mates, I'm new here and I'm trying to get more involved in the forums :)

    Sometimes I feel that using easy terms in writing makes me look like an amateur, but at the same time, I feel that a reader would normally prefer the easiest way to absorb the idea.

    For example, when I'm talking about something very unpleasant or bad...

    I can say horrible, terrible, awful...or I can say hideous, obnoxious, nauseating, ignominious...etc.

    Of course a perfect term would be the one chose according to the context, but in general, do you think the easy vs. complicated term dilemma exist anyway?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Consider your readers' reading level, the context of the story, and keep a thesaurus handy.
     
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  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    What Ginger said, she is all wise and knowing.

    However, think also of the impact a word can have despite being interchangeable with another.
    Such as "Amy has never been so scared." and "Amy has never been so terrified." or "Amy has never been so petrified."

    Only slightly relative for the most part, each word gives a different feel to a reader.
    Being Terrified is worse than simply being scared but being petrified is worse than all three and also gives the image on not being able to move.

    A lot of words are like that, so use the one that best "feels" right or goes well with the mood.

    And do not be like Joey from FRIENDS where he replaces simple words with big words just to sound smart. You can easily lose meaning and a reader will generally notice that you aren't telling them a story as much as showing off vocabulary.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2013
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  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Even close synonyms are very rarely completely interchangeable. Their connotations will be subtly different: "awful" does not mean quite the same thing as "terrible", "gigantic" does not mean quite the same thing as "immense", etc. You need a decent amount of sensitivity to language to distinguish these things.

    Also, there are considerations like rhythm, alliteration, unintentional rhyme, and so on that need to be considered when selecting the right word. I always find the best way to make sure I get it right is to read my prose aloud. If it sounds good, it probably is good. If you do that, you'll avoid a lot of embarrassing problems.

    All other things being equal, I like to use older, Anglo-Saxon words, rather than words with Latin origins. They're usually shorter, punchier, and less formal-sounding. They're also more poetic, in a way.

    If considerations like these confuse you, you should probably make a good close study of the English language. It'll help a lot in the long run, I think.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, minstrel is right. Connotation is everything. Consult a dictionary to see how the definitions of closely-related words differ.

    Where minstrel and I differ is on the issue of rhythm, etc. For poetry, considering those things is well and good, but such things are secondary to selecting the best word possible when writing prose.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Or if you want to go real hc extreme, you don't use adjectives at all! Or adverbs!

    In all seriousness, I like to adhere to Keep It Simple Stupid, probably because I'm not a literary genius in the making, but I do want to tell good stories. This means I tend to pick simpler ways to express things, I might pick outrageous or shocking over egregious.

    I don't know if this makes you look like an amateur. I seriously doubt it. I rarely need a dictionary when I read Stephen King and he's done pretty well, hasn't he?

    I'd be more worried of latching onto some "special" word, like acrid or to proffer, and keep repeating them throughout the novel.

    @minstrel put it pretty nicely about what word-choices often boil down to.
    I sort of kind of little bit disagree with you here. In a way it is secondary, we do want to pick the words that carry the most fitting meaning, but prose that has a rhythm and some alliteration and assonance here and there livens things up, for me anyway, and they often create a nice flow.
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The simplest language is often the best, but the simplest word doesn't always perfectly convey the particular meaning you want to express. Sometimes it seems a writer is writing simply to say, "Hey, everyone! Look at what a great vocabulary I have! I know so many words! You know that that means I am incredibly intelligent and erudite."

    If that's what's being conveyed, then the writer is using too many obscure words for no reason, and it is interfering with the reader's experience, comprehension, and enjoyment of the piece. However, if the words are giving a precise meaning that the author wants to use to connect with the reader, then the usage of those words is enhancing the reader's experience. Using the perfect word (regardless of how obscure it might be) is the very epitome of successful writing.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Simplicity is a virtue. Sometimes the most appropriately expressive word is also deceptively simple.

    The power and beauty of the simple declaration is underrated.
     
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  9. OmarZ
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    OmarZ Member

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    Yeah surely King is class...I began on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo and honestly, the dictionary is open with every paragraph I read!
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this is why i tell new writers to lock up their thesaurus till they don't need one...
     
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  11. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I think every writer wants their writing to be understood and enjoyed by as many people as possible. Use the word that works and never substitute for a grander one just to sound more erudite. ;)

    Also, if you're writing in first or close third person POV, use the word your character would use, not the one you would.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using big fancy words that don't earn their keep will mark you as an amateur much faster than using clean, clear, simple language.

    You notice that I didn't say, "Employing complex, multisyllabic units of language that fail to manifest sufficient utility will evoke the air of an amateur with far more rapidity than..." All of those words are in my vocabulary and I can use them easily (OK, I had to double-check "evoke"), but in that sentence they add complexity without adding meaning. So I didn't use them.

    That doesn't mean that I never wonder if I've used the right word or phrase. For example, I'm not sure if "earn their keep" above is a phrase that most people understand. It reflects my "voice", but an insistence on indulging my voice when it obscures meaning can be just as bad as an insistence on using over-wrought words.

    And when I say "a phrase that most people understand" I find myself wanting to say, "a phrase that's in the vernacular of most people." To me, that expresses my meaning more precisely. But I'm not sure that I'm using "vernacular" correctly, and I suspect that there's a phrase that I should be using to express even more of the thought ("the common vernacular"? "the shared vernacular"?). And even if I resolve that question, I don't know if the added meaning is worth the cost of a word that may confuse some people.

    And what about "precisely" and "resolve" and "obscures" and "over-wrought" and "indulging", all above? In my mind, those are words that are comfortably in my vocabulary and express what I want to express. But am I properly judging their cost? Is their use entirely appropriate? Do they exceed the standard reading level in my country and would it behoove me to develop an alternative voice that doesn't exceed it? But then I couldn't say "behoove"!

    This all sounds like I'm in a constant panic over my word choice. I'm really not--most of the time my word choice is instinctive, and when it's wrong I think that it usually "rings" wrong when I edit, and I fix it. But of course, I would consider my own word choices to be mostly correct. I could be wrong.
     
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  13. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I would say, (despite my rambling, inconsistent posts,) that my proper focused writing has taken on the feel of being economical, but precise. It may look simplistic, but it actually takes much time and effort to get it that way. I personally try never to use a thesaurus, reason being, I don't have conversations endeavouring to explain or describe the things I've done and seen, and say, "Whoa, hold on a minute, just let me get my thesaurus out." I don't think I should force that on my writing, and especially on my characters. I hear enough variation in my everyday life that I can apply. It's all there already, it just takes time, and some mental fumbling to tease it out. Fortunately, I have a bit of time on my hands.

    But for those who need to express themselves quickly, I can understand why a thesaurus works for them. I'd just rather work it out for myself... like a puzzle.

    Edit: Oh, and just to say... when I figure out what word I want to use, I check with a dictionary to make sure I'm using it correctly so my intent is clear.
     
  14. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I don't use words in my writing that I don't use in everyday life. I do, however, use a thesaurus when I can't remember a word at that moment.
     
  15. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    When I often write, I end up writing words that I don't know the definition of but I know instinctively that are correct.
    I look them up, and usually I used them rather well.

    The only time I can imagine myself actively using a thesaurus is if I'm trying to set the scene and need some more evocative words than their simple counterparts or I need to make a character sound smarter by the use of big words cause they're faking it or being douches :p
     
  16. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I loved dictionaries as a child and much of it stuck, but some words, through lack of use, were cast to the back of the filing cabinet that is my mind. I'm sure several reams worth have fallen behind it as well. It is quite staggering sometimes. I pull a word from nowhere, go to the dictionary to check, and find I'm correct in my assumptions. What that does, in effect, is stick it back into a nice manilla folder, and puts it back into the filing cabinet again.
     
  17. OmarZ
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    OmarZ Member

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    A very profound explanation...even though your helpful post forced me to use a dictionary a couple of times :D
     
  18. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that sentence makes perfect sense to me.
    I know the words but why on earth would you use them unless you are trying to be as precise and technical as possible?

    Imagine this:

    You want to repair your own kitchen sink but you don't know how.
    Go to the bookstore and buy a book.
    You have two options:

    1) Plumbing for Dummies
    2) The art of modern indoor plumbing

    Just from the titles, which would have big technical words and was written for those with the know-how and the vernacular?

    So, in what I know, big words and specifically structured sentences are better for technical writing dealing with a very specific audience while simplistic language is more for "the masses".

    However, I think we're getting side tracked in the conversation.

    Lots of words can be used, that sound alike and can be used, loosely, interchangeably.
    Like in my first example but are not big and complicated but create different effects from the feel of word.
    I thought that was the main question but it seems we fell into the more technical/big word side of things.

    What did you have in mind, originally?
     
  19. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, it doesn't seen right to use the same word again in close proximity e.g.
    Amy was really scared. "You look really scared" said Jack.

    You could say:
    Amy was terrified. "You look a really scared" said Jack.

    I imagine reading my text out aloud and if it seems awkward then I change it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would argue, though, that in either case you're stating the same idea twice in rapid succession, and that the solution is not to express the same idea with another word, but to avoid expressing the idea, or at least avoid expressing it so explicitly, more than once. So I'd make the first expression less direct:

    Amy stared out the window, eyes wide.
    "You look really scared!" said Jack.
     
  21. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I agree with you completely. This was perhaps a poor example generally but hopefully it made the point for the specific issue.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's likely though, that even the authors who use "simpler" words, do know the more complex ways to express things as well. If one reads a lot--which is something many writers do--one is bound to pick up new words.

    When I was a teenager, I was confused about the purpose of a thesaurus. I thought English speakers must know every word in their native tongue since there's no equivalent in my mother tongue, no Finnish-to-Finnish dictionaries.
     
  23. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    My general rule--which is one I adhere to in life as well--is "there is a time and a place for everything." You must choose the right word for the time and place you want to use it. If it is a more "advanced" word like egregious or surreptitious or translucent or some kind of thing like that which is required by the text because it carries it's weight then go for it, every once in a blue moon (i.e. not every chance you get). It's okay if a reader does not get every single word. Just consider your audience and the narrator of your story, then ask yourself why you chose one word over the other, and you're golden.

    That said, never be afraid of simple words. The simpler the word the less distracting it is. You don't want to distract the reader (Unless you're Vladimir Nabokov, a language master >_<).
     
  24. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I think there's a happy medium when it comes to word usage. It's never a good idea to clog the reader's minds with words he/she may not understand. But it's also not good to use a bunch of little short words when one nice medium or long word would do the job.
     
  25. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the key word there is "deceptively". And although I agree that simplicity is a virtue, I get irritated by books that are little above the elementary reader "See John. John Runs. Look! See John Run!" level, so the virtue is "enough simplicity to get the effect you want but no more." I've done close readings of writers who are noted for their simplicity, and found that they don't pass basic "fog index" tests because they're too complex. They just don't seem that way when you're reading them. As you say, "deceptive"...
     

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