Here begins a series of posts about words—what could be more apt for a writer’s blog? I’m going to take a light-hearted look at some of the most troublesome, overused, misused, comical, or downright peculiar words in the English language.
Despite the title, not all words featured will seem weird to everyone but, you know, alliteration works well in a title. So ‘Weird Words’ it is.
Only a few each time to keep this manageable. All suggestions for words to include in future instalments are welcome—simply comment with your suggestion.
On with this week’s words…
You’ll sometimes see this word written in place of ‘regardless’ or ‘irrespective’. It makes me cringe because it always strikes me as, at best, a wholly unnecessary word to use when ‘regardless’ does the same job so well or, at worst, plain wrong. It has apparently been used (or, as some would say, misused) for many years; see Merriam-Webster’s tongue-in-cheek response to criticism for listing the word in their dictionary:
This is probably one of those words that writers would do well to steer clear of. Rightly or wrongly, a writer who uses it is likely to be viewed by some, if not most, readers as someone of doubtful abilities. With all the competition out there to get eyes on our work, why take that chance?
I’m including this word for no other reason than I love the way it sounds. Say it out loud; and again; once more. What a great word.
It means to disconcert or confuse someone, which is a perfectly satisfying definition to fit the sound of the word. Discombobulate: to confuse. Ahhh.
When starting this section, I was going to say I first became familiar with the word from the episode in Blackadder III* when Edmund Blackadder taunts Samuel Johnson about his dictionary and how it is not, in fact, a complete record of every word in the English language. However, on checking, I discover that Blackadder actually uses the word ‘pericombobulation’. No matter; that is a splendid-sounding word, too.
On a writing forum I frequent, sometimes a thread will come up about words people dislike. I was surprised when the humble word ‘moist’ became the focus of one of those threads, with the majority of commenters professing a strong dislike for it. Some went so far as to say they hate it.
It turns out that moist is one of the most disliked words in the English language. It’s something to do with people associating it in a negative way with bodily functions or the sexual act. See, for instance:
I confess to feeling bemused.
Moist, for me, is a perfectly acceptable word to use in the right circumstances. Indeed, sometimes it can be the most appropriate word to use. Take this sentence from one of my books; it’s from a scene where a woman awakes from a coma in pitch darkness, having survived a deadly virus, to discover her bedfellow wasn’t so fortunate.
Tentatively, she reached out a hand to the other side of the bed, and withdrew it with a whimper when it encountered something cold and moist.
(from The Beacon)
‘Clammy’ might have worked there; ‘damp’, maybe; even, perhaps, ‘slimy’. But, to me, none of those words are as effective as ‘moist’ in describing what it must be like to reach out and touch a rotting corpse in the dark. It encapsulates clammy, damp and slimy all in one hit.
What a clever little word, punching well above its weight.
Sir Terry Pratchett, no less, used it for the first name of a Discworld character. Now there’s an author who could appreciate the merit of moist.
That’s all for Part 1. Don’t forget to mention in the comments any words you find weird for inclusion in future instalments. I’ll credit anyone whose suggestion I use.
* for anyone who doesn’t know, Blackadder was a four-series sitcom that aired in the 80s, starring Rowan Atkinson, among others, set in various key periods throughout British history. It was quite brilliant and not only hilarious, but could be deeply poignant (anyone who’s seen the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth will know what I mean).