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.
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.