There’s a saying, “Don’t use a big word where a diminutive one will suffice.” It’s totally tongue in cheek, but it’s very true. Lately, I’ve been noticing people trying too hard to use large words, and it shows. I was reading a nonfiction book about marketing or some such, because I like learning new ways of doing things, and came across the word exasperate. Now, it’s one of my favorite words. I actually use it in sentences, usually to describe my husband. However, it wasn’t the word the author meant: the author was shooting for the word exacerbate. Now, there are several reasons this could have gotten put in incorrectly: maybe the author was using dictation software, or meant to type exacerbate and spelled it wrong so the word processing software corrected it, or maybe the author actually thought he or she was using the correct word. At any rate, I put the book down. I know, it sounds rather shallow to put a book down because of one mistake, and most of the time, it takes much more than one word to make me do that.
This time, however, for whatever reason (I was in a bad mood, the editor in me was being a brat, I wasn’t that interested in what the author was trying to tell me in the first place), I put it down and couldn’t force myself to pick it back up.
I read another book where someone was sweating so much her clothes were sticking to her body (as many characters in many stories tend to do) but instead of pulling her clothes away from her body, she pulled her clothes away from her bodice. Again, whether the author meant bodice, was just trying too hard, or whatever, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I’m still considering whether I’m going to finish that book. I kept reading, and found other errors of a similar nature in that particular book, where the word was spelled correctly, but it wasn’t the right word. Basically, the author was trying too hard to sound sophisticated and missed the mark. There are several books I’ve put down because of mistakes that I just couldn’t get past.
In both examples, the author was trying to get something across to the readers, but wasn’t able to because they were choosing the wrong words. In both cases, smaller words or different words needed to be used.
The lesson here? Use the right words. If there is a word that you’re not familiar with the definition, or you have a large word that you want to use it, but it doesn’t quite fit, get rid of it. Be merciless when it comes to your words. Read them aloud. See how they sound. Make sure they fit. There are very few things in a book more jarring than reading a word that doesn’t fit or isn’t the correct word.
Does this mean all our mistakes will be caught? No. There is a human behind every publishing company, editing software, editor, and author. There are times that the word will be missed, or a phrase will be off. It happens, it’s life; but please, dear authors, try.