1. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Would you look it up? Specific terminology

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Garball, May 5, 2013.

    When reading, do you look up words or phrases that you do not understand? Do you use terminology that the lay person might not understand when writing? For example, I describe a "board and batten facade" of a country store. Some people might not know what board and batten is, but that is the only way to simply describe the architecture without three more sentences explaining the carpentry.
    Would the average reader skim this without caring? Look it up? Or, would you as an author, use more common descriptions to seed the reader's imagination?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Is the facade important to the plot? If yes, I look it up. If not, I still might, depending on other factors. For example, if the prose style is really good, I'll look it up out of respect for the writer. Sometimes, if I'm in a particularly academic mood, I'll look it up out of interest. Often I'll just let it go, though, especially if my dictionaries and my computer aren't at hand.
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pretty lazy, so I'll try to figure it out from the context. I might decide to eventually look it up if my computer is handy. But usually if I'm reading a book, I've made a conscious effort to not be at the computer.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'll first try to figure out what it means based on the context. If that doesn't work, I'll look it up. My laptop or phone is usually close by, so it isn't hard for me to look up things on the internet.
     
  5. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    I look up any word I do not know. Even words I do know, but I'm unsure of. All writers should do this, plain and simple.
    Use the word that fits best. The more specific a word is, the more precise a nuance it carries, use it. Don't go out of the way to use lay words, or opt for always dropping the more highfalutin vocabulary. Use the word that fits.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I absolutely do look up unfamiliar words, or familiar words used in unfamiliar ways.

    The average reader, I believe, skips words he or she doesn't quite understand. If the meaning isn't fairly obvious from context, they will generally ignore the sentence entirely rather than look it up. I just don't think most people care that much.

    In my case, it's not even a matter of being a writer. I've always been fascinated with words, layers of meaning, etymology, and what elements of language say about the culture that produced them.

    But when I write, my principle goal is clarity and precision. I will use a less common word if it expresses the thought better, but not if the word is so obscure that it conveys nothing to a well-read reader.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what cog wrote above applies to me, too...
     
  8. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    It's one of my favorite ways of learning new words. Kind of like learning a new chord by watching a more skilled gutarist play.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I not only WOULD look up words or terms I don't know, I just did! Board and batten. Hey, you've increased my vocabulary! Thanks. :)
     
  10. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    I almost always do. As to writing though, I probably wouldn't incorporate too many uncommon phrases for fear of sounding pretentious. I don't think there is only one way of describing anything, and if it's not intrinsic to your plot, I wouldn't worry about being super precise about it.

    Alternatively, if you're writing about some situation that the average reader has no experience with and is necessary for the plot or for your credibility as the author, then you should do whatever is necessary. It depends on the readership and what you're going for.
     
  11. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't look it up unless it was absolutely necessary. When I'm reading I close myself off from everything including the Internet. I'll try to determine the context a word from the words around it. If not, I'll check a physical dictionary. However, I don't own a standard English language dictionary so unless it's entirely fundamental to the story then I won't look it up. I'll look it up if I remember by the end of the reading session, but it's unlikely that I'd remember. I would completely ignore the example phrase, "board and batten facade". I don't know what it means and I wouldn't look it up unless it came up enough times that it would irritate me to not understand it.

    As a writer, I don't think about it. I use simple language heard in everyday life when writing.
     
  12. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I always look up words I do not know. I even keep a list of words I want look up or that I want to introduce into my own vocabulary. I enjoy learning new words and phrases. Usually I look them up later on. Most of the time I can understand things from context I still like to look them up to confirm if I am right. I loathe using words incorrectly. :p
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I'm in the POV of a character who knows nothing about e.g. sailing, I don't use all the technical terminology for say, the ropes. I might say, "What do you want me to pull? What do you mean, the sheet? Oh, this string here?" so that people who don't know what a sheet is can learn the word, and then I would use it later--"My arms don't half ache from pulling on those sheets."
    If I'm writing about a master mariner's life, I would describe them as "sheets" but make what I was talking about clear from the description around the word. I don't care to send the reader to a dictionary too often.
     
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  14. Kaga
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    Kaga Member

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    Since english is not my native language I always look up words I don't know. Partially because I'm curious and want to know what things mean, and partially to expand my vocabulary.
     
  15. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    Same with me. Reminds me when I read a story about fishing, and I looked up the word "creel" because I had no idea what it was beforehand. I think everyone should do this.
     
  16. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless one of the three little pigs lives in the shop and the big bad wolf is outside trying to get a bacon sandwich I don't care what it's made from and just accept it has a wooden front. Do I need to know the pattern, or whatever board and batten is? Even while I'm on the laptop right now I'm too lazy to look it up...
     
  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short answer? no.
    Long answer? I have a fairly expansive vocabulary so there aren't many words I encounter in fiction that I don't know. If I do encounter some "alien" word, if the meaning is apparent in the context of the passage, I just let it go. If it's not, to my way of thinking, in my book (pun intended) it's not very well written if the reader has to struggle with the story content. In that case, I literally let it go ... into the trash! It's not worth reading.

    Now non-fiction is another matter. I like to read things that make me feel stupid. (It's the learning process I enjoy not the feeling stupid part) so I will frequently come across something with which I am not familiar. At that, I have to go do more research, learn more about 'it'.
     
  18. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    If I can figure it out from the context then, probably not, but even so, part of me will want to know what it means, especially if it sounds cool, like "Jabberwocky." Discovering that word made my day. Well, maybe not quite. It at least made my hour.
     
  19. hummingbird
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    hummingbird Member

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    If I'm near a computer I might look it up, but most of the time I take my books somewhere without easy internet access - underground on the metro for commuting, in bed before I go to sleep, in the bath, outdoors in the middle of a hike, or out on my porch. If I run across something I don't know I just skim it. I might look it up later if I remember and if it was an important enough part of the story, but I generally won't.
     
  20. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    So many people to agree with. Cogito (especially regarding the average reader not being willing to look up unfamiliar words), GHarrison (how else are we supposed to expand our vocabularies?), TerraIncognita (I agree, everyone should make these lists!), and especially madhoca. Brilliant example there and what I was going to toss out there. I'll use specialized terminology if the character I'm focusing on would use it but try to give enough context to figure stuff out. For example, I had a warrior mention the fuller on his sword and described it as cutting down the center of the sword. I've yet to run that by anyone so I hope it makes sense outside of my addled brain... Like thewordsmith, though, it's not terribly often I run across unusual words. And when I do, I can generally figure it out by context. If not, though, and I'm near a means, I will look up the word so I can expand my vocabulary.
     
  21. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Mostly I'll check things I don't understand simply because I hate not understanding things. And when I write I try to avoid most such terms.

    In reference to board and batton walls, as I understand it you're talking about a system of walling that's rather old, pre-Victorian with flat sections of wooden panelling covered with a gridwork of long planks covering the joints and forming a lattice. I find the term useful as it paints a picture for me of a Georgian? home, just as I see on a lot of shows like Midsomer. So the term actually dates and describes some of the house for me. It adds character. I don't know if this is necessary to your plot or even particularly relevant. I mean for all I know the action could take place in a modern plaster boarded home. So the question of whether you should remove it or change it comes down to its relevance in your story.

    I would be tempted to replace it with a more generic phrase like "oak paneled walls" and then maybe add a reference elsewhere to age of the house if necessary. But equally I have used "Wattle and Daub" and "Cruck framed" in one of my books simply because it was genuine to the type of house construction, and I know many readers won't know what that means. So I also add a few wordsof description.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  22. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    While it may be confusing without the proper treatment (providing those few words of description, as you said), I love this aspect of using very specific terminology. It's kind of a balancing act, I suppose. Thank you for bringing this up, Greg!
     
  23. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    As it was said before, if it contributes significantly to the plot I would probably look it up (provided the plot is interesting up to this point). If not then I would probably skip it or try to deduce from the context its meaning.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    psychotick...

    it's 'batten' btw... with an 'e' not an 'o'... and it's a 'siding' method, for the outside of a building... it doesn't consist of 'panelling' with a 'gridwork of planks' or 'forming a lattice' but of long vertical boards with narrow strips nailed over the joints... you can see what it looks like here:

    https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&gs_rn=14&gs_ri=psy-ab&pq=history+of+board+and+batten+siding&cp=0&gs_id=3&xhr=t&q=board+and+batten+siding&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&biw=695&bih=333&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=qD6WUd62DKjwigLV84HQDA

    that wouldn't make sense, since 'oak paneled walls' would refer to interior walls of a room, not the building's exterior...

    as i've been an architechtural designer, my virgo-ness couldn't resist setting the record straight... ;)
     

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