More About Words

I’ve been looking at the list of words that should be banned from poems, as mentioned in a previous post. They have been nagging at me since I looked at the list in preparing the post. I’m now worried that I’m unacceptable as a writer because I’m using unacceptable words.

To get things straight, I’m going to carry on using the word “rectal” no matter what. The amount of times I’ve been in hospital recently I want to be very clear when discussing thermometers as the consequences of a mix up could disturb my dreams for a very long time.

The same goes for the following list, though for different reasons. Ammonite, blob, candyfloss, daffodil, destiny, fester, frond, golden, gossamer, heartbreak, Jesus, mango, milt, poised, prayer, shimmer, shriek, snot, soul, sunset, tesserae and ziggurat.

They are mostly unexceptional words and if you are writing about fossils, flowers or fish breeding you are probably going to struggle to do without them. We went to Cirencester once, where they have a great display of Roman mosaics. It would be tough to visit without being armed with the word tesserae. Same would apply if I ever visited a museum of Assyrian temples. There are just some words you can’t do without.

I daren’t use the word shards, because it’s been universally decried over the years, and anyway, if I need to discuss broken pots with an archaeologist I’m sure that potsherds, as they used to be called in my youth, will suffice.

I can’t say the same for some of the other words. Some are just dreadful words – loo and humdinger – and have no part in my vocabulary. When the world is so full of words for toilet (yes, I know it’s non-U) why bother to use one so loaded with class connotations? We have bog, jakes, ajax, thunderbox, water-closet, house of ease, WC, to name a few of te politer ones. (No thesaurus was used in the listing of loo substitutes, I just have a very unsophisticated vocabulary). As for humdinger, I really don’t have a use for it. If something is splendid I shall say so. I don’t need humdinger and I certainly don’t need awesome. Awesome isn’t actually on the list – but unless something inspires awe it’s not necessary. That, of course, is just mt biased opinion.

You then move on to archaic. over-used and complicated words – epiphany, harbinger, hark, lambent, myriad and sapient. I have used several of them in prose, but they are a bit overdone in poetry. However, if I ever need to write a poem about a hard of hearing, knowledgeable forerunner who gets licked by a lot, and I mean a lot, of intellectuals and experiences a life-changing moment, I may have to use them.

That leaves palimpsest, plethora and snedder.

I like palimpsest, though I have never used it. I don’t tend to write about re-used parchment. I have used plethora recently. As for snedder, there’s a limited number of times you can use it. Seamus Heaney, as far as I know, only used it once. That’s probably once more than most of us will use it. Unless you write poems about turnips.





23 thoughts on “More About Words

  1. higgledypiggledymom

    This was fun! I/we do use the word loo for toilet, it’s faster although I remember the word “restroom” and when about the age of 7 not understanding its meaning, I just had to go! Made no sense. I do like “humdinger” as that just sounds like a serious throwback to another age and I picture a group of geezers talking about cars or some mischievous idea they’d hatched.

  2. derrickjknight

    A great lexicographer romp, Quercus. I once produced an advance cryptic crossword for the Saturday Independent. I probably called it something like Anaemia, because it relied on the solver sussing that the Bs should be omitted from all answers to make new words that fitted into the reduced spaces. One of the clue answers was BANAL. The editor made me change it 🙂

  3. paolsoren

    My Grandfather was christened with only one Christian name and his initials were WC. One day, it would have been a little after WC came into common usage he told his wife he was sick of it and was taking a middle name. He opened the paper and there was a comic strip of a little mouse called ‘Montague’. He assumed that name, and although he never resorted to having a deed poll registered it eventually became his legal name. New initials WMC. One of his grandsons has the same set, although his names are different.

    1. quercuscommunity

      Sometimes you look at sets of initials and wonder what the parents were thinking. In your grandfather’s case it was just unfortunate that the initials came to mean something else. 🙂

      1. Clare Pooley

        My sister’s married name was Cole. When my niece was born her name was to be Katherine with a K until they realised she would be K Cole (has to be said out loud). She is Catherine with a C.

    1. quercuscommunity

      I’d never heard it before I read the article, and the only time I’d seen it in print was in the Heaney poem. This sounds like a useful new word now you’ve provided an alternative definition.


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