7 Things to Know About Words, Writing, and Making Things Up

Seven things I know about writing:

Wikipedia

“Woah! Woah, I say! Why isn’t this horse stopping?!” “Wikipedia

  1. It’s spelled “whoa”, not “woah”. Horses know the difference. For those who don’t get the horse reference, please refrain from using the word “whoa” no matter how you choose to spell it.
  2. We spell the word “minuscule” with two U’s and not two I’s because we’re talking about something that is minute, not something that is minimal.

  3. Ernest Hemingway is known for short sentences with plain words, James Joyce for long ones with obscure words. They’re both famous. Don’t let anyone tell you that your writing must conform to one style or anther to be read.

    <a href=

    Ernest Hemingway, another dead but famous writer

  4. James Joyce

    James Joyce, a dead but famous writer

    Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce are both dead. Don’t wait until you’re dead to write, no matter what length of sentence you wish to employ.

  5. Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
    Mark Twain (apparently awaiting the right word)

    Mark Twain (apparently awaiting the right word)

    I say you shouldn’t let fear of the almost right word keep you from getting something down on the page even if it does end up looking like a lightning bug. Some people really like lightning bugs.

  6. “Female” and “male” are etymologically unrelated,

    which leads me to say that etymology is handy for writers. Most dictionaries contain decent etymologies for the words in them. Most dictionaries also define “etymology”. Dictionaries are useful that way. More writers should use them. (See items 1 and 2 above.)

  7. All words are made up words:
    1. Some are long well-established in our language.
    2. Others are neologisms necessitated by changes in society (e.g. “crowdsourcing” – gaining funding for a project by turning to huge numbers of people who contribute small amounts each).
    3. Lewis Carroll reading made up words

      Lewis Carroll reading made up words

      Still other words are nonce words, created for an intended single use (such as Lewis Carroll’s “frabjous”).

Making up words makes me feel smartified. Keeping this list in mind when you write might make people think you’re smartified too. Then again it might not.

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[This post first ran in May 2014. What writing tip can you add to the list?

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22 Responses to 7 Things to Know About Words, Writing, and Making Things Up

  1. I make up words all the time. There are many times that words already in the dictionary just do not convey the meaning I am going for. Therefore, made up words!

    I have no tip to add to your list at this moment. . . because I am currently busy making up words!

    • Tim says:

      Kelly, I’d say your tip is that it is OK to make up words even if there is already a word in the dictionary that does what you’re making up a word for.

  2. Jeannie says:

    This is similar to #3: “Write as you can, not as you can’t.” (I heard that Mother Teresa said this about prayer, but I think it applies to many things!)

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    Many to most of the words that Jesus used were one or two syllables.
    -A style to think over.

    • Tim says:

      I was just reading through a passage of his parables, one after the other, and was struck by how simply the illustrations seemed at times and how obscure at others. A merchant desiring a pearl – simple. Seed on various types of ground – needing explanation. All of it is rich with meaning, though.

    • Some Asian languages are mono-syllabic and also they don’t have the tense structures we have in English. A lot of their language and culture is more in the moment.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    My writing tip? Edit, then edit some more, especially before you hit “send” on a submission and send your fabulous short story on its merry way to a slush pile reader, who won’t want to dig through piles of misspelled words, oddly-placed punctuation marks, and strange grammatical errors to find the “fabulous” gems in your story.

  5. Muff Potter says:

    Glad you mentioned Twain. He’s definitely a man after my own heart!

  6. And I saw a vision, four horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping and crying “Woe! woe!”

  7. Ruth says:

    Mum, Mum, get the ulumbrullas, the cookeloos are out! From my litle brother to mum when he saw pigeons settling on the neighbours roof. Mugabung- motorbike, gupagupas- grapes, gawgaw- ball, ensuipe, en suite, dodo- doll, no wonder Dickens delights! My children were nothing if not creative with their language!

  8. Eric Fry says:

    I grok you, Tim.

  9. Pingback: Five Things I Don’t Understand | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  10. Laura Droege says:

    My second tip: never stop learning. I’ve learned that there are words I’ve been misusing for years because I didn’t know their accurate meaning. I’ve also learned that grammar skills need to be honed constantly; after reading too many submissions/posts/tweets with incorrect grammar, it’s easy for me to miss grammatical issues in my own writing.

    • Tim says:

      I do that too, Laura. I am constantly finding (when I bother to look them up) that words don’t necessarily mean what I thought they meant. It’s a very Montoya/Vizzini experience.

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