Thursday, January 26, 2012

Unusual Words

Bifurcated. Solipsism

Without running to the dictionary, I'm not exactly sure what these two words mean. Bifurcated, I think, has something to do with cutting. Solipsism (again, hedging) is a quality that's negative, but I don't know how.

These two words popped into my head as I thought about the work that words do. Some words are so work-a-day that they slip by you easily, almost silently, delivering their meaning and passing by quickly, so you don't even notice. That last sentence had a ton of those words. Bifurcated and solipsism are 'handle with care' words, words with a lot of stopping power. They're the heavy metals of the periodic word table.

I bring this up because of something that happened during our Bucks County Writers Group's last meeting. Greg has a great story he's working on that is full of playful words. They dance, they stick out their tongues at us and they make rude jokes. Usually, it's delightful and fun. But one word stuck out in his latest submission. Singulated. In my word doc, it's got a red squiggly line under it, telling me it's a misspelling. Greg assures me that it's not. It's a technical term for how specific machine parts are manufactured. Without knowing that, I kind of got the gist of the word, from the context of his story. But it made me stop. In the middle of an action scene, I stopped to think about pulling out my dictionary. That's not what should happen. Greg is (for now) standing by singulated. I have the feeling that he'll kill that particular darling in coming revisions.

What words make you stop? Are heavy-metal words worth the risk?


  [sol-ip-siz-uhm]  Show IPA
Philosophy the theory that only the self exists, or can beproved to exist.
extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one'sfeelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.


  [v., adj. bahy-fer-keyt, bahy-fur-keyt; adj. also bahy-fer-kit, bahy-fur-]  Show IPA verb, -cat·ed, -cat·ing, adjective
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to divide or fork  into two branches.
divided into two branches.


  1. As writers, words are our craft. We need to think about each one when we write; consider--is this *really* the word I want to use? Does it fit the context? Does it sound right with the other words? How does the rhythm of the word flow with those around it? And if you hit a word that makes you stop reading, you need to think--do I *want* that word to have that effect on my readers? "Solipsism" may be the perfect word to use at some point in your work, either because you want to jar your readers, or you want to convey an attitude when put on the lips of a particular character.

    Great article, Magpie. :)

  2. Nice post!

    A true economy of words is in the best interest of every writer, which puts even more importance on the words themselves.

    I'm often guilty of harboring my "darlings" too long. But I do believe, as Colin stated above, that context is everything.

    Carroll's "Jabberwocky" is an excellent example of nonsense words springing to life and perfect sense.

  3. Eloquently put.

    You don't want the reader to have to stop reading to pick up a dictionary. I like reading words which I wouldn't normally use although too many and I feel like my intelligence is being insulted.

  4. @ Colin - very good point about context. IT's hart to keep that in mind when the words are flowing!
    @ Bryce - should have known the poet would bring up Jabberwocky! But it's a very good point - sometimes the weightier words make music and that's just as important as pace!
    @happenence - good point! no reader wants to feel like they're not smart enough to get it - what a turn off!


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