If you’re a writer, one of the first things you learn is that not all words are created equal.

Some words are so common they might as well be invisible.  They do their job and go unnoticed, like the waiter in a really good restaurant who tops up your water glass with such utter transparency and perfect timing that you never notice he or she is there at all . . . but you come away from the evening with the impression that you were, briefly, in possession of one of those ever-filled chalices of legend.

Said is like that, for example.  For ninety-nine percent of your dialogue attribution purposes, said will work just fine, because your reader will never notice that it’s there

Then there are the common run of words, which attract only as much notice as they need to, and come and go doing their jobs without disrupting anything. Sometimes they can accidentally draw too much attention to themselves, if the same word or its near-variant are used in too close proximity to one another, or if two or more of them accidentally rhyme or alliterate, but for the most part they can be used freely without concern.

After that, you get the words that stand out enough, or call enough attention to themselves, that you can only get away with them once or maybe twice in a particular project: squamous, turpitude, eleemosynary.

At the extreme end of that last spectrum, you get the words that stand out so much that you’re probably only allowed to use them once per career.  I used phantasmagorical once, in an early novel, and I think I’ve used up my lifetime allotment for it.

One thought on “Wordwatching

  1. I recall putting down a novel in disbelief when in a tense emotional scene the author chose to describe a character’s eyes as allochroous. Surely there are better ways to say the eyes were changing color without sending the reader to the dictionary?

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