Central to the way in which we understand the world; how we speak about ourselves and the people around us; how we articulate, learn, imagine; and even to the complex way in which we think, are words. Words can take a lifetime to master, and yet be lost in an instant. They can be powerful, terrible, inspiring – just as history shows. Words can be the most destructive weapon man has ever possessed or, turned around, they can be the one thing which brings a person down from the edge.
As a writer, words are my go-to tools, and I love them. I am the person who, willingly, without pain of death, sits down and reads a dictionary, looking for the next meaty morsel to devour [not all girls like shopping, you know]. And when the perfect word sits like a crown in that hard-polished sentence? Forget about it! But, in my own writing at least, it took me a long time to appreciate that sometimes less was more, and that the simplest way of saying something was often the most effective.
Drawing on popular culture for an example, I cite The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Bilbo’s description of the failing of Erebor: ‘Thror’s love of gold had grown too fierce; a sickness had begun to grow within him. It was a sickness of the mind. And where sickness thrives, bad things will follow.’ Everything from the use of repetition, to the internal rhyme and rhythm of the words, just works in these sentences. They express highly complex ideas [corruption, mania, greed] in simple, basic terms which, somehow, manages to make them all the more powerful. And, speaking of the perfect word, it undeniably has to be that final ‘thrives;’ which, with connotations of vigorous growth and (ironically) prosperity, is the axis on which the entire sentence turns.
But simplicity itself can often be misleading, and the precise, ‘nothing-wasted’ construction of these sentences relies on a scrupulous knowledge of language. And a wide repertoire of words. So, I present for your pleasure – or quite possibly horror – forty grand-sounding words with relatively simple meanings, which could easily be worked into everyday conversation.
Assiduous hardworking and persevering. Amongst other things, you can be an assiduous reader, or assiduous in your attentions to men/women, though they might not look too kindly on it.
Acerbic – harsh or bitter, especially in reference to a comment or style of speaking. An acerbic remark is sure to prompt a comeback.
Belligerent – hostile and aggressive. The atmosphere in the war room was belligerent, with both sides refusing to back down.
Banal – ordinary and unoriginal; boring. Astrid was bored to tears at the utter banality of her life.
Byzantine – complicated and inflexible in attitude. The byzantine plot of Et Petit Noir needs to be greatly simplified if the average reader is going to understand it.
Concomitant – following or accompanying as a consequence. Indigestion is the concomitant result of a night of excess.
Capricious – whimsical and impulsive, subject to sudden changes of mind. Isabell’s capricious nature was a constant worry to her mother, who wanted her to settle down.
Diatribe – A forceful, bitter attack against something/someone, usually verbal. Also with the sense of becoming carried away, or close to losing your temper. Incensed by his blatant chauvinism, Clare launched a powerful diatribe against her boss.
Didactic – excessively instructive, usually with a moral overtone. Derek adored Filburt’s Centurion, unfortunately his class found its didactic style difficult to swallow.
Draconian – exceedingly strict and severe. Amber thought her father downright draconian for making her finish her homework before going to the mall. Didn’t he know Ethan would be there?!
Effete – powerless or feeble; no longer capable of taking effective action. The effete authority of a noble will surely be taken advantage of.
Edify – To improve by moral or intellectual instruction. A university is a house of edification, but whether it is the students or the lecturers who are improved remains to be seen.
Erudite – from the Latin for ‘polished,’ meaning scholarly, learned, well-read. Everybody who’s seen/read Divergent will know of the Erudite faction.
Fastidious – extremely attentive and concerned with accuracy and detail. If there was one thing John could say about Joanne’s house, it was that it was fastidiously clean. He couldn’t ever imagine calling it home, though.
Fecund – prolific and inventive. Stephen King is the most fecund writer of the modern age.
Fulsome – excessively suave or flattering; overdone. Many women found Eli’s fulsome charm alluring. Annabel just thought he was a creep.
Garrulous – excessively talkative, especially on trivial matters. After listening to his brother debate the possibly of rain in Prague for over an hour, Mark lost all patience. ‘’Christ’s sake, Glynn, do you have to be so garrulous?’ he cried.
Glib – (of a speaker or sentence) fluent, but insincere and shallow. ‘Of course I care about the environment,’ Riley answered glibly.
Halcyon – denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically peaceful, gentle and carefree. Gillian longed for the halcyon days when her children were too young to answer back.
Heuristic – learning through trial-and-error. The general human condition is a heuristic one: we learn through our own successes and failures.
Ignoble – literally ‘not noble.’ For such a high-sounding word ignoble has a simple meaning. It’s almost anticlimactic.
Iridescent – showing luminous colours which seem to change when viewed from different angles.The stained-glass window bathed the alter in an iridescent pool.
Jejune – lacking interest, significance or impact. While Mr. Nolan tried to fill his lessons with excitement and flare, but he knew, at best, that they came off as jejune.
Jocular – jesting, humorous and playful. A jocular friend is the first one you invite to a party, and the last to a funeral.
Limpid – simple, transparent and serene. The limpid notes of the Clarinet weaved a web of music around the audience, and sent shivers racing down every spine.
Loquacious – talkative. ‘He’s not particularly loquacious,’ was Hermione’s slightly disparaging description of Bulgarian Quidditch player Viktor Krum.
Mendacious – given to lying. Mendacity isn’t one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but sometimes I think it should be.
Megalomania – an obsession with the exercise of power / a delusion about one’s own power or importance. Ozai’s megalomania destroyed both his nation and his family [A:TLA].
Mordent – (especially of humour) showing a sharp critical quality; biting. Earie’s mordent tongue was as sharp as any sword, and cut twice as deep.
Nugatory – of no value or importance. The museum was up in arms about the discovery of a new gastropod, unfortunately the specimen turned out to be nugatory.
Nepotism – the practice of those with power or influence of favouring relatives, particularly by giving them jobs. I’ve tried to get ahead my whole life, but the rampant nepotism of this country has kept my firmly on my knees.
Obdurate – stubbornly refusing to alter one’s opinion or course of action. Kim cursed the obdurate pride of her husband as she sat in the pitch black kitchen, eating week-old bread. Was it impossible for men to ask for help?
Pragmatic – making a decision based on the immediate, prevailing circumstances rather than philosophical or idealistic grounds. War is the playground of pragmatism.
Penchant – a strong, habitual liking for something, or tendency to do something. I, unsurprisingly, have a penchant for writing.
Quixotic – extremely idealized and unrealistic. Brian’s proposal to read the collected works of Steinbeck in a month was both ambitious and quixotic.
Recalcitrant – resistant or obstinate to authority. A recalcitrant child is the dread of every parent.
Rhadamanthine – showing stern or inflexible judgement. Dr. Feelgood concluded that it was her father’s rhadamanthine authority which lay at the root of Jane’s crippling anxiety.
Risible – deserving to be laughed at, ludicrous. John’s prediction that England would win a match was risible. [Sorry football fans]
Sagacious – having good judgement; being wise or discerning. While the divorce went through, James and Eleanor were sagacious enough not to show any open hostility.
Ubiquitous – pervasive, appearing everywhere at once. These days Frozen is as ubiquitous as weeds. No hate though, I promise.
So, maybe after all that you’re asking: what was the point? Well, strangely enough, the point is fun. Go tell your uncle that his play-by-play recount of The Chase is nugatory; profess to your peers that you found Twilight to be quite quixotic (but it’s still an absolute guilty pleasure read); and take sympathy on that poor, season-despairing relative and agree that, yes, the leaves are ubiquitous this autumn.
Revel in language, enjoy its power and sound, but, most of all, watch that eyebrow raise as you casually sprout out ‘big words,’ and see how many people will actually ask you what they mean.
Words can say so many things at any single time.
Use them responsibly ; )
[Sources: 500 Words You Should Know, Caroline Taggart (London: Micheal O’Mara Books Lmt, 2014); Google / Dictionary.com].