Nope, Pretty Sure I’m Right

I was out with writer friends recently and the discussion turned to language, as it does.

We were at Happy Hour after our Sisters in Crime meeting. During the meeting that morning, someone used the word “peripatetic.” Because I’m me, I loudly confessed my ignorance and demanded a definition. (Turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know, so YOU’RE WELCOME, CLASS!)

The only time I’ve ever seen or used the word “peripatetic” is when I sing along to my Chorus Line album. In the song “One,” there’s a lyric:

She’s uncommonly rare, very unique,
Peripatetic, poetic and chic.

Doesn’t give me any context clues, but it’s fun to sing.

It actually means someone who travels around, working in various places for relatively short periods. The woman who used the word was describing her writing schedule lately, meaning she hadn’t been able to sit and write regularly.

This led to more confessions about words we’ve seen but never knew the actual definition of.

Within the last few years, I learned the actual definition of “bespoke.” It means “handmade or tailored” but from context I always thought it just meant a fancy suit, because it was always used as a descriptor of something a rich guy was wearing.

The other word I learned not too long ago was “penultimate.” From context, I always knew that it meant something toward the end of a list. Turns out, it very specifically referred to something that was second-to-last.

Who in the world cares about something second-to-last? Other than a middle child, that is. Or me, come to think of it, as the seventh of eight kids. (I’m quite certain nobody ever referred to me as the “penultimate Clark,” although now I really think I need new business cards.)

Our conversation then devolved into words we knew quite well, but had no idea how to pronounce. This is a much longer list among us readers! (Thank goodness for audio books, eh?)

  • Awry (pronounced incorrectly as AW-ree)
  • Ague (aaaawg)
  • Colonel (colo-nel)
  • Peignoir (peg-nor)
  • Penelope (PEN-uh-lope)
  • Hermione (HER-me-own)
  • Misled (MY-zuld)
  • Andromeda (and-dro-ME-duh)
  • Epitome (EP-i-tome)
  • Chagrin (CHA-grin)
  • Reprise (re-PRIZE)
  • Macadam (McAdam)
  • Cumin (COO-men)

So, what about you guys? Got any confessions of your own?

4 thoughts on “Nope, Pretty Sure I’m Right”

    1. I’m so very lazy, Patti, that I rarely look up a word I don’t know. If I can’t get the gist from context clues, then I just let it wash over me. I agree, though … too much of that can take you right out of the story.

      I will say, I was reading a book set in India and I kept stopping to look up the clothing the author was describing, and some of the food I didn’t know. It was perfectly fine just knowing it was a wedding garment or whatever, but for some reason, I HAD to see pictures of it!

  1. I believe reading should and does expand the reader’s vocabulary, but the unnecessary use of a $10 word when a $5 word would do equally well, strikes me as pompous, particularly in cozies. As someone said, it can interfere with the flow of the story. I read an ARC the other day where “incarnadine ” and “anodyne,” among others, were used in the narrative. They weren’t in the conversation of an academic, and they served no useful purpose. “Crimson” and “inoffensive” would have been just as descriptive and fit much better in the storyline. Now proper grammar, on the other hand, is essential in virtually every instance. I am amazed at how many times I see “Me and so-and-so.” It is “so-and-so and I.” Just consider whether you would use “me” or “I” if “so-and-so” was removed from the sentence. “Me went to the mall” or “I went to the mall.” Sorry – pet peeve.

    1. I am with you 100%, Debbie! I’m a firm believer in clarity when writing. A pet peeve of mine is “twenty years his junior.” Just say “twenty years younger” ferpetesake! (And don’t get me started on “alot.” Would anyone write “alittle”?? No. No they would not.)

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