Word Choice: Matt Duvall guest blog


~Today’s blog comes from Matt Duvall!~

Hi! My name is Matt Duvall. I’m in the same MFA program as Irene, and she was kind enough to invite me to guest blog. I’m hoping she doesn’t regret it.

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about word choice.

Part of this has to do with the fact that next week I’ll be back in school, teaching 9th and 10th graders. Rarely, very rarely, I have to remind them of appropriate word choice for an academic setting.

It may also be a result of Irene’s blog about grammar, or the preparation I’ve been doing to get ready for the “Word Choice Workout” online workshop that my wife and I are presenting for the Passionate Ink chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m a writer, and thinking about words is what we do.

Regardless of the why, I’ve come up with a short list of my (current) favorite words. Some of these are favorites because of their literal meaning. Some I like because of their connotation. And some just sound really cool. So, without further ado, I give you: words Matt Duvall really likes.

  • Avuncular. My uncle turned me on to this one, and it’s been a favorite ever since.
  • Cogitation. Of all the words on my list, I thought about this one the most. As a teenager, I used to think it meant something dirty.
  • Limned. There’s something poetic about it. In fact, there’s a poem by Samuel Daniel that uses it.
  • Malevolent. It’s one of those words that just sound evil–and it is.
  • Shambling. I particularly like this to describe the living dead, or the waitresses at an all-night diner.

Of course, there are some words I don’t care for. Here’s a short list, along with my reasoning.

  • Epistemology. Thinking about it gives me a headache.
  • Felt. I only dislike this word in fiction, and only when it’s not used to describe a fabric. Basically, if a writer says “So-and-so felt x emotion,” she’s telling, not showing. Example: Hank felt scared. Compare to: The hairs on the back of Hank’s neck stood up. (I know, it’s cliche, but it’s still better–isn’t it?)
  • Guarantee. Nothing against the word itself, except that I always misspell it.
  • Hirsute. I don’t care for it–perhaps because I am.
  • Moist. Just…icky.

So those are my lists. What words rock your world–or make you cringe?


20 responses to “Word Choice: Matt Duvall guest blog

  1. I love the word pervasive. I love words that sound like what they mean, too. Like putrid.

  2. I love avuncular; that word rocks. It’s like perfunctory in its appeal, and now it’s my life’s goal to use them both in a single, contextually appropriate sentence.

    Here are some of my other favorites: apoplectic, pugnacious, fledgling, forbear, fiduciary, and thistle.

    I don’t much like these, though: work, due, deadline, tardy, delinquent, and terminated. I hope never to hear any of them.

  3. Natalie and Mike,

    Good ones! I often find that I enjoy reading people’s least favorite words more than their favorites. Unpleasant words always give me a laugh. 🙂

    Mine (subject to change regularly):

    Love = Tempest, firmament, mystic, lullaby, phonograph, steampunk, metronome

    Don’t Love = Math, algebra, division, dollop, spelunker, gerund, stew

    How about “guttural”? I can’t decide whether I love it or I don’t.

    I’m also quite fond of punctuatory (see also: https://irenelpynn.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/punctuatory/ ) and bangledorking (see also: https://irenelpynn.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/bangledorking/ ).

  4. I just wanted to chime in with a phrase that I detest:

    “The meat is so tender.”*

    I have nothing against any of these words individually; but together they are nails scratching down a chalkboard.*

    *This phrase is only horrid when my mother says it about meat that she has cooked. She says it like an old New Yorker, though she is not from New York, and it’s her charming way of complimenting her cooking.

  5. Ryan, you make it sound so appetizing! 🙂

  6. What a fun blog! We used to pass the time on road trips by playing this game, going through the alphabet and finding our favorite and least favorite words that began with each letter. I love “pensive” (as in Friar Laurence’s “my leisure serves me, pensive daughter, now”) and I worship JK Rowling for using it so brilliantly in HP!

    I hate the word “sluice,” partly because it’s gross, and partly because romance writers overused it for decades. When heroes took showers, water never ran down their bodies. It sluiced. Yick.

  7. Mike, I’m still laughing, and you know why.

  8. Renie, how could you not like spelunker? It’s so funny it’s classic.

  9. Thanks for the write-up, Matt; and to everyone who’s replied.

    I can’t think of any words I love more than others. But there are a few words and terms I can’t stand.

    The most famous (or infamous) and overused one is “politically correct”. It’s like a roadblock. How can anyone debate an important topic in a meaningful manner when this term—or its opposite, “politically incorrect”—gets in the way?

    Not only that, but “correct” in any context is an absolute term. And there are few absolutes in life. Most of the matters I debate with others involve relative concepts.

    “Correct” also implies objectivity, whereas my opinions are subjective. I might be able to cite objective facts to support my opinions, but that still doesn’t make them “correct”. It doesn’t make ANYONE’S opinions “correct”. But of course, that’s just my opinion!

    Also, it really sets my teeth on edge when I read this expression, so common in romance novels and especially their back-cover descriptions: “She had no choice but to . . . . ” Baloney. Situations in which someone, real or fictional, actually has no choice are few and far between. And they’re especially rare in romance fiction.

    If a romance heroine is, say, being pressured into a marriage of convenience, she has a choice, all right. She can fight whoever or whatever is forcing it on her.

    Saying she has no choice means she’s giving in too easily. How am I supposed to identify with and root for a character like that?

    What’s more, such a situation implies that the author is taking the easy way out. She’s creating a story, complete with romantic tension, in which she forces together a man and a woman who, in real life, would never have anything to do with each other. That’s just a contrivance. I prefer stories in which events unfold naturally.

    And in romance fiction, the hero and heroine should have a better reason for getting together than simply because they’re forced to by some some authority figure or “events beyond their control”. Often these events AREN’T beyond their control. And even if they are, how someone reacts to them usually is.

  10. The thing I don’t like about the word “epistemology” is that I tend to confuse it with the word “episiotomy.” You wouldn’t believe the reactions you get when you tell people you’re interested in episiotomy . . .

  11. Anonymous: I too try to avoid words that are easily confused with others, or words that are commonly taken to mean one thing when they really mean another—e.g. “enormity” and “fulsome”. Usually I can easily substitute these words for others.

    But sometimes I can’t. For example, if I use the word “euhemerism” or “euphuism”, either I make sure I’m addressing a readership that is already familiar with it; or I add a brief definition, often as an apposition. Otherwise, the readers might think I mean “euphemism”—and that I’m misspelling it!

  12. This conversation reminds me of a funny moment from The Owl and the Pussycat:

    – I never take sleeping pills. They’re too enervating. … Did you hear what I said?

    – What?

    – I said, “Pills are too enervating.”

    – Yes, I heard that.

    – You know what that means, “enervating”?

    – Yes, I do.

    – People think it means the opposite of what it means.

    – Do they?

    – But it doesn’t.

    – No, words rarely do.


    • Enervate is a vocab word in my class. I wish they would just remove it from the dictionary because it confuses my kids so much! I take all that time teaching them to see if a word looks or sounds like something they already know…

  13. Ha! I’ve been reading the replies and these are all great.

    I’ve recently run afoul of the phrase “in color.” As in, “The car was blue in color.” Unless we might be confused, “in color” seems unnecessary.

    I also have a campaign to make people aware that it’s “Hear, hear” to indicate agreement, not “Here, here.”

    And in an only-slightly-related way, in one of my 9th grade classes one day the kids were doing research on the Internet about animation. Three young ladies called me over, where they were looking at Michael Sporn’s animation blog. Unfortunately, I could only see the URL–http://www.michaelspornanimation.com. Not my most comfortable teaching experience.

  14. Ooh, I love that Owl and Pussycat moment!

    Matt, I seriously laughed out loud at your URL. A teacher’s nightmare!!!

    Mary Anne, “fulsome” confused me when I was a kid. It just doesn’t sound right, does it?

    I dislike all words I’ve ever embarrassed myself with. I used to mispronounce “verisimilitude,” and I blame the word.

  15. Debbie Pfeiffer

    Matt, thanks for the fun post. I was laughing while reading your definitions of your favorite words. Nice. I think my uncle must’ve turned me onto avuncular too.

    Among my “like” list:
    rambunctious (especially about dogs, specifically mine)
    ubiquitous – I use just about everywhere
    omnipotent and omnipresent – because they sound powerful
    sidetrip – because I like to make these
    terse, laconic – because they are

    “Dearth” is one I like, but I am always tempted to misuse.

    Kathleen, I love blaming the word for mispronunciations. That subject would be a good spinoff: words that irritate because they produce road bumps when trying to pronounce them. For instance, I like dance and creating dances, but I always stumble over the related set of words–choreography, choreographer, choreograph/ed. I keep having to stop and think about which syllable needs to be stressed, which makes for clunky talk, conveying the exact opposite of what you usually want to, when talking about dance. (But I do like the word “clunky”.)

  16. Trope. I just thought of that one. I can’t stand it, and I don’t know why. Unfortunately, I have to read/hear it a lot.

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