The writing savants instruct that we not employ a ten-dollar word when a nickel’s worth will suffice. You will lose the reader if he is forced to consult a dictionary. You risk appearing pretentious.
This is no doubt sound advice. And yet I struggle with it. I like archaic terms, obscure, little-used words and expressions. I enjoy encountering a new word, even if it means heaving open my brobdingnagian 1920’s era dictionary, or hopping onto the web for a quick search. I loved it even as a kid. A new word was a precious find. I hoarded them like gems. Reading L. Sprague de Camp was like a treasure hunt. I’d roll “yclept” about like a shining jewel. An archaism that I valued precisely due to its rarity.
I like the baroque stylings of a Jack Vance, or the dense, lush lyricism of E.R. Eddings just as much as the more approachable, breezy prose of Elmore Leonard.
So I find myself torn. I do err on the side of caution, many of my jewels not surviving the culling of the first draft. Of course infrequency causes the remainder to stand out, and a word that stands out can lead to the very problems the wise and experienced writing gurus warn about. Thus I weed out even more – the story itself being more important than one of my beloved treasures.
But sometimes the nature of the story allows me to indulge. And I do.
What are your thoughts? Does it diminish your enjoyment of a story to stumble across an unfamiliar word?