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Old 01-01-2013, 03:00 PM   #46
Andrew H.
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There's about a 50-50 chance I would look up dolichocephalic the first time I encountered it; I would know from context that it was a description of the guy's head and thus probably not critical to understanding what I was reading. But I might look it up out of curiousity.

On the other hand, if I encounter the word again, I'll probably look it up because that means it's not just a one-off.

I think that a lot of obscure words aren't obscure because the user is being pretentious, but are obscure because the words are no longer common. In 100 years, people will likely no longer understand the fine distinctions we make between laptops, notebooks, desktops, and tablets and will just sort of vaguely regard them as some sort of computer. In the same way most people today don't know the difference between a landau, a barouche, and a fly, and just sort of vaguely regard them as some sort of carriage.
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Old 01-01-2013, 04:28 PM   #47
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Reminds me of a conversation I had with some of my friends' kids who felt that reading the instructions that came with their new video games was somehow "cheating."

I look up words that I don't know the meaning of (or can't easily figure out from context) with zero regard for whether it was used "pretentiously" or not. Why a word might have been used has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the word exists and has exposed a gap in my knowledge that needs to be remedied. Since I can do that very quickly and easily, I do so, and move on. Usually the happier for it.

Now, if I have to do that for 10-12 words per paragraph—page after page, ad nauseum—then we can start talking about pretentiousness (or possibly just prerequisite knowledge that I lack).

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Old 01-01-2013, 11:14 PM   #48
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Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
It was interruptive to check a definition when reading a pbook and I often just guessed at a meaning while writing it down to check later. One of the joys of an ereader is checking word meanings as I come to them. It's no bother.
My experience exactly!

I quite enjoy looking up not only words but events or maps, when I find something I don't know or can't quite remember. I look up slang and topical references, and look for pictures of places described -- if the story isn't moving too swiftly for me to stop!

It's great having such easy access to the information that adds richness to my reading experience!
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Old 01-02-2013, 09:01 AM   #49
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Is the shape of the surgeon's skull even important to the story? If not, describing it with such an obscure word just seems like bad writing to me. I'm not saying that all words should be simple and easy, but why make your readers go to the dictionary to understand something like that? Bah, humbug! It's stuff like this that encourages readers to not even bother looking up words they don't understand.
I agree.
It makes you wonder; is the writer's purpose here to impress or to inform?

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Old 01-02-2013, 10:25 AM   #50
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I agree.
It makes you wonder; is the writer's purpose here to impress or to inform?
Isn't it within the realm of possibility that it's neither?
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Old 01-02-2013, 10:54 AM   #51
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Originally Posted by DiapDealer View Post
Isn't it within the realm of possibility that it's neither?
Precisely, Colin Dexter is simply a man with a very rich vocabulary, who makes full use of it within his books.
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Old 01-02-2013, 11:54 AM   #52
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Yes, I wouldn't want a writer to "write down" to his readers and in this case the word may be appropriate in a forsenic setting.
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Old 01-02-2013, 11:55 AM   #53
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Yes, I wouldn't want a writer to "write down" to his readers and in this case the word may be appropriate in a forsenic setting.
I think that's the point. Max (the pathologist) is a medical man, and Dexter is playing a game by using words from the medical vocabulary to describe him.
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Old 01-02-2013, 01:08 PM   #54
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Originally Posted by mbovenka View Post
OK, I just looked up 'subniveal' in the book. Yeah, I'd have gotten the rough meaning from context (the actual sentence being 'The thaw continued overnight, and lawns that had been totally subniveal the day before were now resurfacing in patches of irregular green under a blue sky.'), but I'd probably have looked it up to be sure.
Knowing nothing of the book in question, that looks, to me, like an author throwing around vocabulary for the sake of it. It's far too wordy IMO, indicating unfamiliarity with the word.

Perhaps:

'The thaw continued overnight, and l[. L]awns[,] that had been totally subniveal the day before[,] were now resurfacing in [irregular] patches of irregular green under a blue sky.'

That said, I'm neither a writer nor editor.

Last edited by twowheels; 01-02-2013 at 01:11 PM.
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Old 01-02-2013, 01:52 PM   #55
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Old 01-02-2013, 01:55 PM   #56
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Originally Posted by twowheels View Post
Knowing nothing of the book in question, that looks, to me, like an author throwing around vocabulary for the sake of it. It's far too wordy IMO, indicating unfamiliarity with the word.

Perhaps:

'The thaw continued overnight, and l[. L]awns[,] that had been totally subniveal the day before[,] were now resurfacing in [irregular] patches of irregular green under a blue sky.'

That said, I'm neither a writer nor editor.
I'd be wary of accusing Mr Dexter of unfamiliarity with words. As well as being a writer of detective stories, he's also well-known as a compiler and solver of cryptic crosswords. I strongly suspect that he knows a lot more about words than you or I are ever likely to.
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Old 01-02-2013, 02:33 PM   #57
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I strongly suspect that he knows a lot more about words than you or I are ever likely to.
And that really seems to threaten many people for some reason. Can't say as I understand the phenomenon, myself. I'd never dream of expecting other people's vocabularies to my conform to my own personal, preferred lexicon. Nor would I immediately assume that an author who uses words that aren't a part of my own vocabulary must be trying to "impress" someone.

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Old 01-02-2013, 02:56 PM   #58
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I'd be wary of accusing Mr Dexter of unfamiliarity with words. As well as being a writer of detective stories, he's also well-known as a compiler and solver of cryptic crosswords. I strongly suspect that he knows a lot more about words than you or I are ever likely to.
I like Colin Dexter and his Inspector Morse Series. Harry T's post about The Secret of Annexe 3 made me pick it up again.
Colin Dexter is the Will Shortz of Britain.
For those who do not know, Will Shortz is the current Crossword Puzzle Editor of The New York Times.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Shortz
He also has a Puzzle Podcast Sunday Puzzle that is broadcast on Sundays. It is part of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.
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Old 01-02-2013, 04:08 PM   #59
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I'd be wary of accusing Mr Dexter of unfamiliarity with words. As well as being a writer of detective stories, he's also well-known as a compiler and solver of cryptic crosswords. I strongly suspect that he knows a lot more about words than you or I are ever likely to.
You seem to have missed my disclaimer:

Quote:
Knowing nothing of the book in question[...]
Perhaps I should have said book, nor its author. Regardless, the quoted passage was wordy.
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Old 01-02-2013, 04:12 PM   #60
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Originally Posted by twowheels View Post
You seem to have missed my disclaimer:



Perhaps I should have said book, nor its author. Regardless, the quoted passage was wordy.
You right! Words bad! Short good!
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