I have a big vocabulary and I’m not shy about using the right word or phrase instead of a commonly used term. With many friends for whom English is a second language (and as a volunteer at an English as a second language program), I’m often explaining my word choices. This means I have to be able to justify lethargic over lazy, essential over basic, and peculiar over odd. Several of my multi-lingual friends have commented that they enjoy my eccentric (unusual, weird, abnormal) word choices, so with them I aim to please.
Why do I seek precision in word choices?
I think there’s a wondrous sensation that comes from using the right word. It’s as if some words are ticklish. They resonate, while other words just sit there filling a space in a sentence. The sounds of the right words make a difference, but it’s primarily the accuracy. It’s like a painter mixing the right color for the sky at twilight—and how often is that a standard blue?
Dialog presents an entirely different problem for writers. The vocabulary of the character directs the word choices. If you’re up for a strange game, listen to the words that your friends (family, colleagues, or acquaintances) use. The individual words reveal a great deal.
My friend the bartender notes specific geographic differences. Tablets versus pills, lift versus elevator, and bag versus sack, have distinct connections to places. She uses that kind of vocabulary to guess where patrons are from and has told me that it’s just as reliable as accents.
A request to find a toilet, bathroom, washroom, loo, restroom, ladies room/gents, or W.C. in a public place, either nails down the character’s origins or deflects with a subtle red herring. When I travel, I try to find out the local word before I find myself stumbling through a list of alternatives. It’s not that I’m trying to hide my New York/U.S.A. home, but using the right word is efficient. In the case of a fictional character, the precise/local word choice might help obscure a secret past, just as the wrong, but accurate and understandable, choice might help reveal that same secret.