15 unusual words that make writers swoon

Always opt for simple language over the complex—unless you’re dealing with one of these arcane words. Think you could work one into your copy?

In a previous post, I wrote about the value of using simple words in place of complex words. Readers are not impressed by the use of complex words; they’re frustrated by them.

Though I strive to use simple, clear terms in my own writing, there are some words that I am just dying to use. Archaic, unusual words that I have stumbled upon in fiction. Words that have drawn me in. I like the ways these words sound. I like the way they look.

If I could only find a way to work them into my next article on surgical checklists.

Vex. To cause someone to feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried.

Example: You take delight in vexing me by deliberately using bad grammar.

Portmanteau. A large suitcase or trunk that opens into two equal parts.

Example: That portmanteau will not fit in the overhead bin and must be checked.

Naught. Means zero or nothing. It can also mean to ruin, disregard, or despise.

Example: Her behavior tends to set propriety at naught.

Foible. A weakness or eccentricity in someone’s character.

Example: She loved him in spite of his foibles.

Parvenu. A person who has suddenly risen to a higher social or economic class, but who has not gained social acceptance in that class.

Example: He was treated like a parvenu at the country club dinner.

Sentinel. A soldier or guard who keeps watch; to keep guard or watch.

Example: Bennett heard a strange noise and asked the sentinel to stay close.

Moribund. At the point of death; dying.

Example: Kathryn was unsure how to save her moribund career.

Beslobber. To smear with spittle or anything running from the mouth.

Example: In this drunken and beslobbered state, the lieutenant returned to the ship.

Nonplussed. Bewildered or unsure how to respond.

Example: Anna’s hot and cold behavior has left me completely nonplussed.

Loquacious. Means talkative or continually chattering.

Example: Jane was pleased that her new assistant was not particularly loquacious.

Forbear. To refrain or resist; to be tolerant or patient if provoked.

Example: My approach this year has been to forbear and maintain a professional demeanor at all times.

Erudite. An educated or learned person; scholarly with an emphasis on knowledge gained from books.

Example: “Not everything is in your books,” Steve told his erudite friend.

Mellifluous. Means smooth or sweet and is generally used to describe a person’s voice, tone, or writing style.

Example: Patrick O’Brian’s style is best described as mellifluous, sweeping the reader along from the first words.

Redolent. Fragrant or sweet smelling; strongly reminiscent or suggestive of something.

Example: These words are redolent of earlier times, when language was more formal.

Denouement. The final resolution of a story or a complex series of events.

Example: Will the denouement be explosive or serene?

Readers, any words you wish you could use?

Laura Hale Brockway writes about writing at impertinentremarks.com.


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