Kate Flora: Oops! There I was, putting the last items in my suitcase for a trip to San Francisco–first time visiting friends in years–when the little calendar reminder on my phone went “DING!” to remind me that before I leave, I must write a blog post.
Sometimes that’s an easy task. Sometimes the brain draws a terrifying blank. Today, it whispered, “Recycle something.” Looking through posts from the past, I am reminded that from time to time, I blog about words. I love words. Just love them. The other day, we were having a post-Thanksgiving lunch with a dear friend, and she kept using words I’d never heard before. Neither had the other guests. She admitted that her colleagues at work are also sometimes baffled by her words, or tease her about using big words. Her words included the phrase “super erogatory.”
But words, big or small, have always delighted me. I own an awful lot of books about words and word origins. I don’t know how many words there are for snow, but from time to time, when I’m working on a tense scene in one of my books, I’ll be looking for words for pain. Or for the weather, which often has a correlation with my characters’ emotions.
Recently, I was looking for words for winter so I dug out my trusty Rodale’s Synonym Finder (a book no writer can be without and a gift from my mom, who felt the same way) and begin to read.Strangely enough, winter wasn’t there. Happily, I found “Wintry.” It lead me to delicious choices like hibernal. Hiemal. Brumal. Cold. Frigid. Freezing. Ice-cold. Shiveringly cold. Icy. Frosty, snowy, arctic, glacial or hyperboreal. Then on to Siberian, inclement, stormy, blizzardly, windy, bitter, nippy, sharp, piercing, biting, cutting, brisk, severe, rigorous, hard, and cruel.
(A plea here for using actual books rather than looking on line. On line you may get your answer but you probably won’t get a page full of other delicious words that tempt you in other directions.) I just casually opened a page, landed on tumultuous, and was drawn in by disordered, confused, mixed-up, untidy, irregular, shifting, mercurial, rowdy, explosive, volcanic, and then tempestuous, rampageous, and pugnacious. Had to stop and repeat tempestuous, rampageous, and pugnacious a few times.
Does this make you want to pick up your pen? Are you a writer like me, who loves lists of words? Who thinks it would be fun to create a character who actually uses the word hyperboreal, rampageous or pugnacious? I am particularly fond of the word truculent.
If I read on in my trust Rodale’s, the book offers me some lovely dark words for a crime writer, particularly one who is writing during the dark months in a cold New England landscape. Here are some tasty words to sample over your morning coffee: bleak, desolate, stark, cheerless, gloomy, dismal, dreary, depressing, unpromising, somber, melancholy. How about dark, gray, overcast, sullen, or lowering? These words pretty well fit the woods behind my house, which are shades of brown and gray and have been since the leaves fell.
When I go looking for “hibernal,” it isn’t there, but “hibernate” pops up at me, the perfect thing to do during the months of December, January, and February (with perhaps the occasional peep out to attend a holiday party?). Hibernate leads to: lie dormant, lie idle, lie fallow, stagnate, vegetate, and estivate. Perhaps more fitting, for those of us who find these winter months perfect for sitting at our desks and listening to the voices in our heads, there are these: withdraw, retire, seclude oneself, go into hiding, lie snug, lie close, hide out, hole up, sit tight.
I am looking forward to being holed up, lying snug, and secluded. But I love the almost song-like rhythm of:
Which leads me, since playing in dictionaries and Thesauruses is part of a writer’s fun, to the far more positive word: snug. Try these lovely words on for size: cozy, intimate, comfortable, easeful, restful, relaxing, quiet, peaceful, tranquil, serene, informal, casual, warm, friendly, inviting.
I am reminded of the snug in an English bar. Snug also suggests secret, private, covert, secluded, well-hidden, screened off.
So while you are reading this, I am secluded, screened off, and well-hidden at my desk, a space which is cozy, warm, and inviting, if a bit overcrowded with papers. And once the screen is up and the manuscript is open, I shall turn my back on the hibernal, bleak, stark, cheerless landscape outside.
And probably proceed to kill someone, or at least put them in serious jeopardy.
What are you doing on this dark and somber day?
p.s. Evidence of my long-time fascination with words are these three sheets of paper, found while cleaning out a drawer this morning. They were efforts to expand the boys’ vocabularies.