Friday Writing Exercise 0 Comments

For Christmas I was given The Completely Superior Person’s Book of Words, a dictionary of obscure words. I had wanted such a dictionary since learning that Nick Cave kept one on hand while writing And the Ass Saw the Angel ­– a novel renowned for its thorny, quasi-biblical language. Yet acquiring this dictionary has got me thinking about obscure words and whether there are any rules to using them.

As a reader, I enjoy the ‘Aha!’ moment of discovery, after a poem or story has sent me to the dictionary. While the best obscurities can have the reader smiling over a new level of humour or poetry in the text, the worst can leave them thinking ‘Huh? Does that even make sense?’ The difference between the two scenarios often has to do with the writer’s understanding of the word, but not always. There are times when, despite making sense contextually, an obscure word can damage the text simply by failing to add that extra spark – the ‘Aha!’ moment that makes going to the dictionary worthwhile.

Recently, I agonised over my usage of the word ‘intercrural’ (meaning ‘between the thighs’) in an otherwise simple paragraph. While it was saying what I wanted it to, anatomically, it broke the flow of my sentence and looked awkward next to shorter, simpler words. In the end, I replaced it with ‘private’ – a less specific but more intelligible option.

There will always be readers who are put off by obscurities, and writers should be aware of this. That said, as a lexophile (word-lover), I feel that unusual words should be preserved, for the sake of the English language. Below, I have listed a few words fromThe Completely Superior Person’s Book of Words. For a writing exercise, why not try building a paragraph around one of these words?

Etiolated (adj.) – pale and drawn.

Frippet (n.) – a frivolous female show-off.


Jumentous (adj.) – pertaining to the smell of horse urine.

Labrose (adj.) – thick-lipped.

Noctivagant (adj.) – wandering by night.

Quiddity (n.) – the essence of something.

Suffumigate (v.) – to subject to smoke and fumes, especially from below.

By Laura Woollett

Laura is a writer and member of the Voiceworks editorial committee. She recently completed honours in creative writing at the University of Melbourne.

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