View Full Version : Vocabulary

Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum

November 17th, 2001, 12:00 PM
I was reading some reader reviews (on a different site) the other day, and something that some people kept saying started getting on my nerves. I keep reading where people complain about a book's lack of complicated vocabulary. Which brings me to my topic. . .

Why is it that people shoot down a book because it isn't filled with flowery language? I can't understand why vocabulary praised so much. I mean, honestly, is it that hard to use a thesaurus? Anyone could flip through one and pick out some obscure words, it's really not very difficult.

As you can probably tell, vocabulary doesn't impress me very much. It is necessary to an extent, for keeping things fresh and diverse, and it's nice to have words here or there that the reader might not be familiar with. But there are far more difficult things in writing than fancy language. Personally, I give a hell of a lot more credit to people that handle "flow" well. When an author writes a story that is interesting from beginning to end, with no parts that drag, I think that is a wonderful achievement. I'm also much more impressed by an authors creativity, or their ability to conjure up crafty analogies, or how well they handle their chracterization.

But for some reason, certain people tend to complain whenever a book is easy to read, regardless of how great a story it is. For me personally, I like all different types of styles. I like some simpler books, I like some complicated books, I like some childrens stories. I just like a good story. But a complex vocabulary isn't a necessity for me. I've read some books with a great vocabulary, but the story stunk, so what was it all for?

I'm posting this in the writing forum because I want some other views on vocabulary, both as a reader and a writer. Any thoughts?

November 18th, 2001, 05:30 PM
Vocabulary is a personal call, IMHO. You have to be detailed enough to provide imagery, and vocabulary can either help or hinder that. For example, if you're writing about, say, two snakes, you could describe the environment they live in as:

The sun beat down like a flail upon the endless, undulating sea of sand dunes, which stretched as far as the eye could see, kissing the horizen.

Ok, maybe not the best description out there, but at least the reader understands (hopefully) that the scene is in the desert. I used fairly basic language there, but the image still carries. On the other hand, if I said:

The brobdignation orb of flame scorched the great inhospitable abode that was the planar surface below.

you will be unsure of what image to conjure up in your mind. It's a fine line, but the really good authors manage to pull it off.

November 19th, 2001, 03:47 AM
A diverse and wide vocabulary is only a tool for better communicating the nuances of a story. If vocablary becomes an obstacle to the reader, or (god fobid) a way for some arrogant writers to alientae their readers, then there is a problem. I learned much of my extensive vocabulary reading fantasy literature and history books as a child. I do not condone writers "dumbing down" their writing for fear that someone might not know a word, but I also do not think writers should insert archaic or unusually daunting vocabulary which does not directly serve their story. Both the writer and the reader have a responsibility...the writer to tell his/her story using the language they best feel communicates, and the reader to look up any word they do not know! There is no shame in picking up the dictionary once in a while when stumbling across a word you don't recognize...you might learn something! And writers who use dense vocabulary to stump their readers often think themselves great intellectuals who aspire to greater heights of understanding. But all they really succeed in is making their writing utterly impenetrable.

November 19th, 2001, 06:55 AM
I agree with Vroomfondel. I haven't consulted a Thesaurus in years, but my command of language has never been stifled because I couldn't think of an appropriate word. I do believe that in order to express yourself well and simultaneously reach your target audience, an author is required to have a mastery of his own language. It saddens me when I hear a commentator who thinks that fort and forte mean the same thing. In order for literacy to survive, more writers ought to educate themselves as best as they can.

November 19th, 2001, 05:15 PM
Interesting topic.

Although I agree writers shouldn’t “dumb down” their stories, I do not believe that this topic is as simple as that. Vocabulary should first depend on the writer’s intention for the story. A formula type book should have different vocabulary than say an original cutting edge (serious literature) book. The formula book would be intended for a mass market, whereas the serious literature book would be for the die hard genre fans. The mass market books, like it or not, can not have a lot of seldom used words. A mass market book must reflect the masses, which means using language the masses will understand. If that means using “defect” instead of “tergiversate”, then so be it.

I don’t claim to be a vocabulary genius and I proudly admit that I don’t hesitate to use a thesaurus. Fortunately, possessing a wide vocabulary is NOT a requirement for writing (thanks to dictionaries and thesauruses). Knowing how to string words together properly and poetically is a requirement. Personally, I would prefer for my books to be accepted by the masses rather than praised by literary critics.

November 20th, 2001, 01:17 PM
*grunt* Thog smash! *grunt*