Friday, September 10, 2010

Words That Paint Pictures

By Chester Campbell

Among the many definitions of the word "word" in my old Webster's Collegiate (copyright 1977) is "a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning." The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use, plus 47,156 obsolete words. Compared to that, we mystery writers use hardly a handful in our tomes.

Words are the tools of our trade, though, and I suspect most authors are like me and spend a fair amount of time looking up the finer points of their meanings. I keep the American Heritage Talking Dictionary handy on my computer's Start menu and use it frequently for definitions and its thesaurus entries.

Although I have published only six mystery novels and one nonfiction work, I have written a total of sixteen books. I have no idea how many words I turned out in that process, but I know I have used several that became favorites. Though I have been judicious in their use, they turn up in several stories. I suppose the reason I've come to like them is they aren't words I use or hear everyday. And they just flat sound interesting.

I found four of them in my newest mystery, A Sporting Murder, which will be released officially next week. The first one is "skullduggery." It can be spelled with only one "l," but I prefer two. Defined as "a devious device or trick," it can also be "underhanded or unscrupulous behavior." Just the sound of it gives you a feeling of mischief.

Another favorite is "grunge." Oddly, it doesn't appear in my 1977 Webster's. American Heritage defines it as "filth; dirt" or "one that is dirty, inferior, obnoxious, or boring." I love the sound of it. I use it to describe the condition of a light bulb on the porch of a house in a run-down section of Nashville where the murder takes place.

"Pizazz" has the sound of something exciting. For this one, you can use "z' three times or four. Being the perverse sort, I prefer three. It is defined as "dazzling style; flamboyance; flair." When I did a Christmas signing at Mysteries & More bookstore a couple of years ago, we were entertained by a group of female singers called the Pizazz Quartet. They had flamboyance and flair.

My last favorite word is "vociferous." It sounds loud, noisy, and harsh on the face of it. I use it in the book when Sam Gannon says he'd probably buy an NBA season ticket if his wife didn't object too vociferously. I'd describe all these as words with character. Do you have words that strike your fancy because their sound paints a mental picture of their meaning? Share them with us.

Visit me at Mystery Mania


Helen Ginger said...

All of them sound like their meaning, except "vociferous." Maybe that's why you don't hear it often.

Chester Campbell said...

I guess it sounds a little too vociferous.