It would be nice to get through a Didion piece without having fifteen words to look up (elucidation, reticulated, asystolic). While I can infer from context as well as the next person, a part of me feels betrayed by my lazy younger self. Why didn’t I ever learn these words?
Strengthening my vocabulary is not a 2014 resolution, it’s a yet another step in my continuous development. It will be more challenging than revamping my everyday go-to jewelry; bringing in some mixed metals and warmer tones was easy. Ceasing my overuse of words like bit in exchange for more specific options: spec, pinch, trace, or tad–depending on the circumstance–is more about breaking a habit than precise articulation. I break habits everyday, but increasing my command of language? That’s going to take some work.
In The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, Priscilla Long recommends keeping a lexicon journal. I won’t quote her here. Instead, I encourage you to get the book.
In following Long’s instructions, I’ve saved my notebook for words that have a charge for me. After titling the cover and beginning the list with terms from childhood (bagworms, birch trees, three-speed, fort, squint, Italian ice, blacktop, dodgeball, Croom) I went through a dry spell. Paying attention to my emotional response to expressions for days on end proved futile. I found myself forcing it by modifying mundane nouns with neon. Is there a word for inadequacy coupled with impending disinterest?
I sensed a trace of enthusiasm when I decided to look up the parts of a feather, but the results–rachis, calamus, barbs and barbules–don’t hold sonic luster for me.
Then last night while watching The Colbert Report, I heard Stephen say “unfettered jocularity” and it was like seeing dimples across a room of anonymous neighbors. Better bling than onyx–there’s a verb in there. Unfetter me from insecurity, laziness and shame. Fetter me to the dictionary. Unfetter my prose from limitations. My lexicon gained an entry.