As I mentioned the other day, I love unusual words but it’s a real skill to use them in a way which doesn’t sound pretentious or patronising to the reader, trying to use language they will have no idea about and just to show how knowledgeable you are. Lovely words though they are, there has to be a particular reason for choosing them.
For example, unless there scene being descried is set in Scotland or involves Scottish people, there is no point in using ‘guddle’ a verb meaning to fish with your hands – like tickling trout. When I was a child, probably about ten or eleven, we went to stay with friends who took us to a lake with a stone or concrete surround. Lying down by the water’s edge I could see the water swarming with small fish. Having read about catching fish with hands in one of the any adventure books I’d read, I lowered my hand into the cold water, and began to guddle… and i was very successful! Being calm, patient, slow and gentle I guddled a lot of the little fish, which of course I returned to the water straight away.
Similarly there wouldn’t be any point at all in having a French man or an Italian woman keeking round a door – another Scottish word to mean peep… unless of course a Scottish person was describing what the french and Italian people were doing.
I remember coming across the word ‘lambent’ in a book and having to look it up, even though I correctly guessed it meant a sort of glowing or gleaming, soft light. I thought it was an amazing word, and was looking forward to trying to use it myself, when a few pages on in the same book, the author used it again! I know common words are repeated frequently, of course they are, but when a writer chooses an unusual word for effect, I didn’t quite expect to find it again so soon… and then lambent appeared again! Altogether I noticed it was used five times in the book… whatever it was, I forget now!
Here are some more unusual words, and I am going to challenge myself to try and use them – but carefully and naturally in something I write!
- guddle – Scottish to fish with one’s hands by groping under the stones or banks of a stream
- keek – Scottish to peep surreptitiously
- kylie – Australian, a boomerang
- labarum – a banner or flag bearing symbolic motifs
- o-o – an endangered Hawaiian bird, a species of honeyeater
- paludal – living or occurring in a marshy habitat
- periapt – an item worn as a charm or amulet
- pinguid – resembling fat; oily or greasy
- portolan – a book containing sailing directions with hand-drawn charts and descriptions of harbours and coasts
- rawky – foggy, damp, and cold
- rubiginous – rust-coloured
- shallop – a light sailing boat used chiefly for coastal fishing