Use Of Vocabulary In Writing


“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”
-Stephen King

“Use of profanity does not indicate lack of vocabulary because, by its very nature, profanity is vocabulary. #fuckisawordtoo”
Chuck Wendig

“I guess words are a motherfucker, they can be great
Or they can degrate, or even worse, they can teach hate”


“The writer’s vocabulary is a brush and the strokes of brilliant color are the words used to describe what’s on the canvas, the page of the book.”
-Chris Winterberg

So, there you have it. Vocabulary in writing is as instrumental to the writer as it is to the reader. It describes. It associates. It transfers feelings, emotions, and thoughts. It’s content. It’s defiance. It’s vulgarity. It’s so many things that I don’t have enough time to wax poetic any longer.

We use spoken and written words every day to communicate our emotions, ideas, or thoughts. It might be successful, it might not.

“That’s not what I meant!” becomes a mantra for those who cannot either spit out a coherent sentence or their vocabulary is so limited that the correct word is nowhere to be found in their pea-sized brain. Whatever their fucked-up reason, vocabulary is the correct answer. The same holds true in writing.

Write The Way People Speak: Real people use conjunctions, slang, vulgarity, and regional dialect in their every day way of life – dunno, c’mon, soda, pop, Coke, cola, fuckin’, shithead, water fountain, bubbler – you get the point. When writing, use the way people speak vocabulary to convey to the reader the surroundings, place of interest, tone, and voice of the characters.

What? You say you don’t know the regional dialect of every single place on the Earth. Or even the conjugations. Or the slang. Or…whatever. That’s where the Internet becomes your friend. Oh, you’re familiar with the Internet? Oh, I see, it’s those late night interludes when you’re all alone… When you write, you learn.

Make it a priority to learn new words: This does not mean study the dictionary, but, if you have the time… Read! Read! Read! And then read some more. Stephen King said that reading makes for better writers. I’m paraphrasing, but you can look it up if you want. We’re friends. Why would I lie to you?

These are a few words that came up in some of my reading so far this week. I’m not embarrassed to say that I had no idea what they meant. I do now, in my short-term memory anyway: cockalorum, flibbertigibbet, slangwhanger, bumfuzzle, petcock, and poppysmic. If you already know these, then hey, you’re pretty fucking smart. Needless to say, some are rather amusing and my imagination went wild on a few: petcock. C’mon, who wouldn’t want one of those?

Okay, only because you asked. Well, someone out there was thinking and hoping that I’d put the meanings behind those words so their lazy ass didn’t have to search. Here ya go:

Cockalorum – a little man with an unduly high opinion of himself. Also, see dickhead.
Flibbertigibbet – a silly, scatterbrained person. Most fun people are.
Slangwhanger – one who verbally attacks others. Also, see douchbage.
Bumfuzzle – to confuse or fluster. It’s just a damn funny word.
Petcock – small valve in steam engine or boiler; regulator. Not at all what I thought!
Poppysmic – lip smacking. I got nothin’.

Find the right word and use it: Look, not any one person knows every word in the world. If someone says that they do, they’re what I like to call – a big fat liar. Of course, I thought of different words for that person, but I used the right words at the right time for the particular sentence and audience, which is exactly what a writer wants to do. Don’t be afraid, I repeat, DO NOT BE AFRAID – no, I wasn’t yelling at you per se, I simply wanted to draw your attention to those words – to use a thesaurus. I know the word thesaurus sounds like a prehistoric dinosaur, but use it. The first thing I always say, “When in doubt, whip it out.”

The thesaurus you perv.

When writing, it will do two things – there’s probably more, but I’m focusing on two, so stay with me here: express yourself better and stay away from redundancies in word choice. It’ll also help you learn new words. Shit, guess that was three. Dammit!

When you learn a word, use it: This is where I could say to make it a game or some weird shit like that, but I’ll assume that you’re not a twelve year old still learning everything. The second thing I always say, “Slip it in.”

Really? Seriously? I can’t mention one word or phrase without you miscreants thinking the worst. You oughta…okay, I was just seeing if you were paying attention. I totally meant those to have sexual innuendo. I heard it sells more of whatever and everything.


Throw that new word into conversation with as many different people as you can. Use it in sentences. What? You say, “How do I do that?”


Wait for a chance to bring it up in a conversation. If the chance doesn’t come about or, ahemmm, arise, make it happen. Say you’re in a conversation about politics and your friend keeps playing with her phone. Say she sets that phone down and looks away. Take it. Yup, you heard me, grab that little shittrap, flip phone of useless technology and hide it. When she turns back and can’t find it, say, “Hey, you look bumfuzzled.”

While I may have been histrionic in my depiction, piss off, it could happen. Yeah, just like that.

Remember: It’s not a dissertation. It’s fiction. For this post, we will all assume that the glorious writing being done is fiction, therefore: The word fiction suggests, by itself, that the story is based on imagination and not necessarily on fact.

Use your imagination. Let the words flow freely. If you need to make one up along the way or combine two, hell, maybe even three, do it. Don’t use the pre-saved, bullshit dictionary of Microsoft Word as your guide to all things correct and real in the writing universe.

Sometimes it’s okay to let your writing surprise you. Be creative. Be accepting. Be surprised.

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