Should old words be culled or treasured?

Someone knocked at my door and asked “Have you got any old clothes?”

I said, “Yes, I’m wearing them.” They looked confused.

I mention this because I have a tendency to hang onto things I like, even when they get a bit worn.  This applies to words too.  I do not always notice when a word or phrase falls out of fashion.  I do also pick up new ones, especially if they express an idea better than any existing words.  I do object to using existing words in such a way as to lose sight of their original meaning.  Literally should mean what it says.  So should unique.

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I have been thinking about this a lot this week, because I have been having discussions with my editor about the draft for my novel, Accounting for Murder: Double Entry.  Many of the expressions I use are a bit old-fashioned for a book set in the present.  Not Shakespearean, just Twentieth Century.  We are in the process of deciding which ones to replace and which to keep.

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I love the English language for many reasons, but one is that it is so full of synonyms.  You can choose an exact word to convey a particular shade of meaning.  Hope, expect, anticipate and await all mean ‘think about something that might happen’ but do not all express the same feeling towards that possible event.   It would be a shame to use one of them all the time and forget about the others.  This is as true for at least some slang words as for more ‘proper’ ones, in my opinion.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that have given rise to discussion.  You might have views on which ones would enhance my manuscript and which would detract from it.

Not half.  Phwoar.  Wally.  Snake in the grass. Trollop.  Seduce. Stone me. Strewth. Bit of stuff. Old trout. And how. Knickers in a twist. Apparent. Bonhomie. Bathers (= people in the sea). Acquire. Acknowledge. Loquacious.

I am not saying how many of these will appear in the final version.  As to my overall style, you will get a good idea if you read any of my non-fiction books or even my blogs and E-zine articles.

Some say I should look at other current writers. That is a good idea for several reasons, including sheer enjoyment.  But do I want to be just like them?  Is my individual style worth nurturing?

You will find out what I decide if you read the book.  I aim to publish just before Easter.

 

 

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