Writers Reaching Backwards

Use Outdated Words, Occasionally

By Annette Rey

Writers, be ingenious. Be flexible. Be creative. Look forward, right? But I say, also look backwards.

What do I mean by that?

My writing seems to take me everywhere. Whether I am checking a spelling or a definition of a word, or checking into a curious website mentioned in an article, I seem to find gold wherever I surf. When I find a nugget, my writer’s mind takes off like a piercing-eyed owl that has spied a meal.

Even when I am sure of the spelling and meaning of a word, I double-check by visiting a site (see my post Reference Sites for Writers) or three. I don’t type the site into my address bar, I type the word I am seeking information on. This opens up a list of options and a side menu on the right that list suggestions in the form of a phrase. Don’t ignore that side menu. Sometimes phrasing that includes my search word changes my perspective and I say to myself, “That looks interesting.” And I click on it and it takes me to something unexpected. And that’s where I find gold.

While creating a flash fiction, I followed this habit and discovered an absolutely GREAT old, outdated word. It’s so old it’s been forgotten. But that didn’t stop me! I immediately inserted it into my flash fiction and published it without hesitation. It just sounded  SO good! And the actual definition is EXACTLY what I wanted to portray for that character.

I know you can spot the word in my paragraph:

“Officer, every one of these characters have a motive. Take for instance, the hostess. She’s hidin’ somethin’ the indoor staff knew too much of. That scobblelotcher Valentine; he wanted them out of the way so he could move in closer to her money. The chauffeur hated both of the servants; and that actress Marion may not be what she seems she isn’t; if ya know what I mean.”

In my opinion, that word dressed up the paragraph. To boot, it’s a real word; I didn’t make it up. And what does it mean?

Scobblelotcher – a person (like my cat) who works hard at not working; someone who avoids hard work like it’s their job. As we might say today, a freeloader.

But, wouldn’t the use of freeloader in my sentence have brought my prose down to the ordinary?

I don’t suggest you always throw in odd words, but I say GO BOLD! Jump in. Dare. Make your writing flare and flame. The best writers are remembered for their twisting on the ordinary, for breaking barriers, for calling their own shots. If the word fits in with the context you have constructed, your reader can get a good idea what that unfamiliar word means.

And isn’t reading a search for knowledge? Do you remember when you were a new reader? The dictionary was right next to your school books. And, really, should be there today, too (or some digital version thereof).

So, exercise your writing and your reader. Make it fun for both sides.

Coming is a post of odd words that SOUND just right!




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