Writing Tip: Use StyleWriter to edit Unusual Words (2)


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Write with familiar, simple words to let your reader concentrate on your message.

“When you use words people have to look up in a dictionary or search for in Wikipedia, you’ve failed.”

Guy Kawasaki

Here’s a list of unusual words found in writing. Try to keep to familiar words and avoid unusual ones. They are usually unnecessary.

Approximative is an adjective meaning not quite correct or exact. You can usually use approximate, roughly or about.

Buslesquely is the adverb from the noun burlesque. Try to recast the sentence to use the noun form.

Complected, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

“Not an error, nor a dialectal term, nor nonstandard—all of which it has been labeled—complected still manages to raise hackles. It is an Americanism, almost nonexistent in British English. Its currency in American English is attested as early as 1806 and it appears in the works of such notable American writers as Mark Twain, O. Henry, James Whitcomb Riley, and William Faulkner. The synonym complexioned, recommended by handbooks, is more common than complected in both literary and journalistic use.”

If you want to find out how unusual a words is, you can search for it on Google.

complected = 565,000 Google hits

complexion = 54,500,000 Google hits

Try to avoid the unfamiliar word, “complected”.

Example: She is fair complected with a winning smile.

Alternative: She has fair complexion and a winning smile.

Plain English: She is fair skinned with a winning smile.

Discriminant is a mathematical expression providing a criterion for the behavior of another more complicated expression, relation, or set of relations. It’s therefore a specialist word for a specialist audience. If you are confident your audience understands its precise meaning, you can use it. But if writing to a wider audience, use it with care. You may have to define it and guard against its overuse. You should always write to express, not to impress.

Only generates 274,000 hits on Google. Avoid the word.

You might think fortuneteller is not an unusual word. It’s not. But it’s not a word. It is either two separate words or hyphenated, depending on what dictionary you use. Both Oxford (UK) and Merriam-Webster (USA) list is as hyphenated: fortune-teller. Some lesser-known dictionaries still list it as two words. Your spellchecker will often highlight such words as nonstandard. Our StyleWriter program goes one step further and tells you to write it with a hyphen – the correct form.

This word can refer to pledges or securities or it can be a less common spelling of “gauged” or often a misspelling of the verb “gagged”. So although the word exists, it is a dangerous one to have listed in your spellchecker. Avoid it.

For easy reading and a good style, you should generally avoid words with certain endings. Words ending in -able, -ment, -tion, -sion, ability, -ality, -ness, -nesses are usually more complicated than they need to be. Instead of writing “This dish is heatable” write “You can heat this dish” – avoiding the -able ending.

This word means having a strong impact or caused by impact. Then why not say that. Instead of writing: The decision was impactive on the company policy”, write: “The decision had an impact on company policy” or better still, “The decision changed company policy.”

Do you know what this word means? Most people can hazard a guess. They’ll think it has something to do with the law, but the precise meaning will escape them. It means of the administration of justice or the office of a judge or relating to law or jurisprudence : legal. Avoid it. Use a more familiar word.

This means to sue or prosecute at law. Sue or prosecute are better words.

Prefer the singular form, meantime.

Means a person who negotiates. Or in everyday English: a negotiator.

Often used as financial jargon to mean ‘spending’ or ‘outlay’ which are much more familiar terms.

A specialist word referring to a branch of biology on the study of parasites. Using a word such as parasitologically depends on your audience. While it might be familiar to biologists or medical practitioners, you should avoid it when writing to the public or a nonspecialist audience.

A person who relies on someone else or something else. You can usually avoid it by recasting the sentence.

An invented word, accepted by the Oxford dictionary in 2010. It means to take a holiday at home, rather than overseas. Such newly coined words, known technically as neologisms, are often formed by combining the elements to two other words – so ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ becomes staycation. If you are British, you may have heard of staycation, but to many people the word will jar. Here are some more neologisms: bropropriation, doorbuster, globo, hepeating, infobesity, kittenfishing, kleptopredation, megamoon, plandid, shoefie and sweatworking. Readers don’t know what these terms mean – so don’t use them in your writing.

A medical term for inflammation of a vein. You have probably heard of the term deep-vein thrombosis because it has been in the news recently. Of all the words on this list, thrombophlebitis has the most legitimate place in your writing because although it is unfamiliar, it has a specific meaning.

Means not provided with what is needed or wanted. Mirriam-Webster gives this example: “There were some ladies and several gentlemen standing about yet unaccommodated with seats.” Why not just ‘without seats’?

Veep means vice president. It’s slang. Use vice president.

Everyone is familiar with the word ‘weapon’, but to turn it into a verb is an ugly and unnecessary step. It’s good advice to avoid unfamiliar words turned from nouns into verbs. Other ugly examples include: productize, securitizing and signatured.

Why do people have a problem with the word ‘extra’ that they have to abbreviate it.

Use ‘extra’ rather than ‘xtra’.

A slang word meaning ‘muscled’. Avoid slang when writing, especially slang that’s unfamiliar to your readers.

Slang for something showy. It might be a neologism of the words “zippy” and “jazzy.” Avoid it both as slang and as a coined word.

Note: An exception to this rule of editing words highlighted by your spellchecker is a proper noun. Proper nouns are usually specific and cause readers little trouble, even if they have never heard the word before. If you are giving directions to your office and you include the name of two or three placenames on the route, your spellchecker may well highlight them. So my edition of Word, set for UK spelling, highlights the following well-known Scottish placenames: Trossachs and Blairgowrie.

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