When Words Toy with You

December 8, 2014

I have a fairly robust vocabulary. I’m pretty sure it’s from reading so much as a kid without any concept of “reading level.”

And I love nuance in words. Maybe that comes in part from my vocabulary and maybe it’s just a part of my personality – I don’t know. But the subtle differences in meaning and the different emotional connotations of words that mostly mean the same thing are what make language fun and interesting to me.

The result of this, however, is an on-going joke in my family about my proclivity for big words. Because sometimes the right word is a little more obscure than the common word (see how I didn’t use prosaic).

Here’s the thing – when you acquire your vocabulary from reading you don’t hear some words spoken aloud very often. You may be able to read right through them without blinking and pronounce them just fine in your head. Totally know the definition. But the first time your mouth has to wrap around that word it can tumble out in a disjointed, odd mess. So, I knew my family would appreciate a story about me stumbling over one of my “big words” in the course of my audiobook.

On a woman’s body there is the neck, and the shoulders and the cleavage and breasts. And the expanse in between all that is the décolletage. It’s a prettier word than collarbone so, I thought, more fun to use. And it’s French because we don’t have a single word in English to express that expanse of skin. It’s something I’ve read often enough to be familiar with and to write into my novel:

She had instructed Marie to dress her with a soft, refined wildness. Her bodice wrapped tightly around her but the skirts fell loosely, drifting in wisps and layers around her legs like the dresses of the fairys. Tendrils escaped the ribbons in her hair, lingering around her bare décolletage.

But when it came time to say it out loud… that’s where it gets interesting. The squeak you’ll here is the sound booth door opening as I went to check out m-w.com to listen to them pronounce it for me.

Ryan Gosling amused gif

Except, I learned in the nuance of words it doesn’t quite mean what I thought it meant. I was using it as a more innocent expression of that area on her body with the implication that the cut of the dress is just above the cleavage. But the “technical” definition is a bit lower it seems, since most definitions and descriptions include the cleavage or top of the breasts. Which, in hindsight, isn’t exactly what I was going for.
So… this is how it played out.

I hope you find it funny because it cracks me up every time. And if you know me very well you also know it kind of drives me crazy that it doesn’t “technically” mean precisely what I wanted it to mean. Because my editor will tell you I’m rather exacting with my words.

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Posted in: Tattered Heart ~

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10 responses to “when words toy with you

  1. Brooke Maltarich

    you crack me up. I have totally done this before and absolutely agree that words sometimes come out different when you speak them aloud.

    • Annie

      At least I can pronounce all the fantasy names I made up for my novel. I said them all out loud before I decided on the final version 🙂

  2. This is so true! It’s surprising to discover you don’t know how a word is pronounced until you try to say it. 😀 I love that you posted this example too – so fun! Now at least you know you can use decolletage in conversation with ease! 😉

    • Annie

      Oh, I can totally rock the word decolletage now 😉 And I agree, almost the funniest thing about it is how it surprises you. Because you read it so easily, that moment of shock when you can’t say it is awesome.

  3. pod

    I’ll never be able to hear or think about the word collarbone without thinking of you first. Thanks for the smile today. I hope life is wonderful!

  4. “Really, I have to say that right there?!” Well, you wrote it! 🙂
    I actually heard another author, Jon Acuff, talking about reading off some sort of fact in his book out loud for his audiobook and then realizing it was actually wrong… oops…

    • Annie

      I know! There’s another clip I’m thinking of including in an outtake reel where I had like 4 words that started with “S” almost right in a row. “She seemed sad about something” or something. Anyway, I burst out with “Why did I write this?!” and my best friend outside the sound booth can be heard reminding me I had no one to blame but myself 🙂

  5. Ahhh, I can totally relate! I don’t use loads of big words, but I do use some and I get to saying them and my family just looks at me like, “What the heck are you saying?” >_< So there goes my moment of using big words. xD HAHA. But that clip was funny! Oh gosh…priceless. xD

    • Annie

      I’m so glad you also think it’s funny 🙂
      My problem is most of the time I don’t think about them being big words, because they’re just the way I think. I totally read the Raven Cycle and when they comment on Gansey using some word or another I’m like, “What? What’d he say?” because it sounds perfectly normal to me. So it’s really good to laugh at myself every now and then.