I’m starting to get into writing (review, analysis, critique) and I’ve decided to start to keep note of some useful terminology to expand my mental dictionary. Basically thought I could crowd source some of people’s most used vocabulary, phrases, or just terms that are consistently helpful to keep at arms length when writing. I wouldn’t steal phrases that wouldn’t sound like they’d come from my mouth but I am curious about some of your favorites. I do a lot of thesaurus.com-ing but I’d like to get to the point where words come more naturally.
Not vocabulary exactly but boy do I love me some em dashes. You can use those suckers for everything and they always make you sound organized and thoughtful. Just, you know, keep 'em to two per sentence, or things start to get confusing, haha.
I’ve also started using semicolons like crazy; they open up a whole new world of sentence organization.
Pilcrows are risky, but if you have the confidence and audacity to pull them off, they can be a pretty spectacular typographic flourish.
No specific words, but pay attention to good verbs. This applies more for fiction or creative nonfiction, but good verbs speak more than nouns or adjectives because they can force the reader to imagine more than is actually written on the page.
I heavily endorse @bronson’s point about verbs. Lots of writing can fall into ruts with bad verbs. One teacher, when I was younger, circled every instance of the word “is” on a single page of my writing. I wrote sentences loaded down by stuff I thought would make me sound smart. Trimming that fat helps writing become strong quickly. Good verbs are a huge part of being able to remain expressive while cutting out bad habits.
Vary your sentence length, too; it can add a really nice rhythm to your words.
I second em dashes! Mostly because in advertising and marketing copywriting semicolons are death.
I got into the habit of using them at work, and they’ve bled into my novel writing–I think they keep things snappy!
i find semicolons a false hope. An attempt to give legitimacy to my run on sentences. I’m not big on em dashes either.
I only ever use the emdash in dialogue, and prefer the colon and the comma over the em dash for prose. Tho that might be academic training shining thru.
On the vocabulary front I don’t really have a favourite word or phrase. But I usually avoid overly complicated words unless I’m trying to express a specific idea (I always prefer yelled to exclaimed, and said to stated). But usually the best phrase choice is situational for me. It’s completely dependent on the rhythm of the sentence.
I like the word “moratorium” a lot because it always makes me think of some kind of necropolis or something despite its actual meaning (a pause/ suspension of sorts) being super mundane.
And I had a thing in this one class in college where I would try to work the word “halogen” into every paper I wrote. My professor picked up on it and it kind of became a joke he would comment on when giving the papers back.
I know, I know what you’re thinking: “You couldn’t have been that cool right, dr_monocle?”
Just a minor correction, keeping something “at arm’s length” means keeping it AWAY from, in this case, your writing. I think you meant something more like, “to keep on hand”
I wonder if it’s a cultural thing, like that likely apocryphal story about how “tabling a conversation” meant something different to British people and Americans, so there was an argument in WWII about “tabling a conversation” when they actually meant the same thing. Or maybe not; I don’t know.
I enjoy somewhat esoteric flourishes; your ‘thusly’, ‘frippery’, and so forth. Understood (or, at worse, a quick dictionary search away) but not overused. Anything that gives some writing a bit of a distinctive edge and can become a coherent style you can instantly spot.
Unfortunately a lot of writing (especially my own) seems to end up either being written to a set style (I’ve been doing academic stuff recently and was selling articles before that) or desperately to just get something down in the shortest possible time. At which point you’re either stripping all your style to fit the house style (yay, academia: where the house style is often picked almost intentionally to alienate readers) or just stream-of-consciousness and praying that it’s still readable at the other end of typing.
I certainly have my own style for stream-of-consciousness stuff, possibly related to dyslexia and an atypical structure of thinking. Things that I think read well are sometimes considered almost impossible to parse by others and, in the reverse, I often have extreme issues with all these tiny sentences with no connectivity and assembling them into a single unified idea. For that reason, I’ll often lean on a good semi-colon to help divide but not completely break sentences and slice out a short clause with some commas (or even hide an idea in parenthesis because I don’t want to lose it) when others would just cut everything up. Short sentences can be fine but I think people rely on them too much. They’d rarely actually talk like that.
I’m going to bump this thread to give a little, perhaps obvious, advice for folks getting into writing. There’s a lot of solid advice in this thread and great tips (@Highwire’s is super key imo), but I think a great place to go for writing is looking at a style guide like Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. There’s a wide variety of discipline-specific style guides, all of which are prescriptive and, consequently, limited by design. However, reading those books can both get you used to thinking conceptually about writing and, handily, often contains a good deal of useful vocabulary and phrases.
The difficult thing about pulling vocabulary from other people is that it can make fresh and interesting phrases into tired and boring ones. Writing is hard.
‘Jawn’. Use jawn as often as you can. Every other sentence, if you can. Everyone will absolutely know what you’re talking about.
I hope this was helpful.