In a post on The New Yorker's Page Turner blog last week, poet Brad Leithauser meditated on what you can learn by examining a concordance (or list) of words used in an individual author's work. You'll be able to see, he reports, that some much-used words represent an author's "favorite concept," while others serve an author as "conscious embellishment, a sort of sartorial sprucing up of his prose—like a man’s decision to wear a bow tie or a boutonnière."
They are stray cats taken in by the author—as in John Updike’s adoption of “lambent” and “crescent” or Anne Tyler’s of “nubbin” or John Cheever’s of “inestimable” or H. G. Wells’s of “incontinently” or Thackeray’s of “artless.”
Leithauser's fascinating piece on the relationship of writers and words suggests two activities word learners might want to try:
1) Analyze a concordance of your own writing. You don't have to be Shakespeare to have a concordance created in your name. Just plug up to 100 pages of your writing into our list building tool, click 'grab vocab,' and we'll show you a list of the words you've used, and the frequency with which those words appear. (Note: Our tool looks only at words that are blurbed in our Dictionary; we have more than 10,000 of them, and they're the most looked-up, high frequency words you can find.)
2) Adopt a pet word of your own. Have you encountered a word recently that you wish you heard more often? Or do you keep a list of favorites jotted on a post-it above your desk? Pick one, then go to its definition page in our Dictionary, read its blurb, check out its usage examples, introduce yourself to its "family," and listen to how it sounds spoken out loud. Then drop it into your writing as often as possible and use it in speech. If nothing else, this exercise will help the word's meanings stick in your brain. And who knows? You may start a trend.
Just be sure you're solid on the word's multiple shades of meaning and subtle usage rules before you embark on this adventure. Our tools are designed to keep you from the rookie mistake of not fully understanding a word's place in the world before you use it. See Beware the Obscure Adjective, Gelid in its Untouched Tomb for more on this phenomenon.
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