Over the past few months I’ve few posted about words I love, words I don’t, and slang terms I wish would go away. Thinking about language in this way made me realize there are words I rarely see that I wish I would see used more. All of these words I like because not only are they unusual, they just look striking and sound interesting when said aloud. They also make one sound smarter without coming across as pretentious.
Copse: This word means a group of trees like in a forest or grove. I first remember seeing this used in one of the Harry Potter books. I’m sure I’d seen it before, but for some reason when I saw it in that Harry Potter book it stuck with me. Oddly enough, after I looked it up I noticed it in other books and it’s a word I’ve used in my own work.
Suss: Suss is a British slang term meaning to investigate or figure something out and has only been around since the mid-1960s. Honestly, I thought this was a much older word since it just, well, sounds like a much older word. In my head I can hear a character living in a time long before the 1960s using it as he or she is working to solve a crime.
Succulent: This one is admittedly a bit tricky. Succulent is a word which is used a lot when describing plants, but I don’t recall seeing it used in other ways. It has other definitions such as something which has desirable qualities or something which offers mental nourishment. So, beyond its botanical usage, succulent is a word which I think should be get applied more to other things.
Bilious: Depending upon its context, bilious can either be a rather gross or interesting word. As might be apparent in looking at it, bilious does have the word bile as a root. And yes, it does have a couple of definitions related to bile. However, it also has a couple of non-medical related definitions as an adjective for someone who is disagreeable or peevish or describing something as unpleasant.
Melancholy: Since I enjoy reading historical fiction set during Victorian times, I do see this word. It means a state of profound sadness and in my reading, it is used euphemistically as a way of saying a person suffers from what nowadays would be considered depression. I think it’s a great word to use in modern or futuristic fiction. There’s a certain elegance to it.
Malaise: Another old-fashion word I see in older works or stories set in days of yore. Whenever you want to get across a state of feeling not normal physically but also knowing you aren’t sick, malaise is a great word. I have noticed malaise and melancholy used interchangeably. Though they have different definitions, I think it’s because they describe a feeling some of us have had so well.
I think whenever a person sees or hears these words, it causes the mind to pause and think. It makes you pay more attention. These words are beautiful because of that power. As a writer, I want to incorporate all these words into my writing not because I think it makes me sound smarter, but because they are special. I wonder if other writers experience this whenever they come across unusual words when they read? I would imagine so as how else does language survive?