I love words. The shape and size of them. The way they roll off my tongue, the way they look on the page.
When I was young, I was nerd enough to read the dictionary. I loved the thesaurus. And my passion for reading was equal parts story and the excitement of finding brand new words. They gleamed like jewels on the page, those words I didn’t know. I tasted them, captured the gist of them in context, and tried to use them with sometimes disastrous results. To this day I don’t know how to pronounce many of the words in my vocabulary as so many of them were gleaned and garnered from books.
But exotic and lovely words, it seems to me, are in crisis, poised on the brink of extinction. Yes, I know the valid advice about not using fancy words when an ordinary word will do. But does this mean we should never use these words, that they should fade away and become word ghosts, insubstantial and floating about in the ether around our heads, trying unsuccessfully to make themselves heard?
Case in point. When I was working through the line edit of Closer Home, I encountered a query from the developmental editor that took me aback.
I had written:
“Callie sits astride the frame of our open bedroom window. Her long, tanned legs are nearly bare, the too-short denim skirt rucked up to her hips.”
And my editor – an educated woman, whose business is with words – responded, “I haven’t encountered the word rucked, before.” She suggested that I change it to something like tucked, or pulled.
Now, I happen to like the word rucked. And it’s the perfect word for the state of Callie’s skirt in that moment. Anybody who doesn’t know the word can surely guess at its meaning by the context. So I declined to change it. Fortunately there was no epic battle, but I would have fought for it.
It’s only one word, you might say. Why does it matter?
All words matter.
Because extinguishing one word leads to the loss of another. Because the richness and quirky wonderfulness of the English language lies in the words it has begged, borrowed, and stolen from other languages over the years. And I believe we lose something precious with every word that fades out of existence.
Thus, I have become a curator of words. I hoard them and store them away, turning them over in my mind like Midas with his gold. And when there is an appropriate sized opening in a piece of writing, in they go. Many things about my writing are negotiable, but never this.