Hot, Juicy Words

treesamThis morning, as I sit here wrapped in my cream-colored faux-sheepskin throw (it’s cold in my early-morning office) reading Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, a little bird, a finch maybe, small but full-throated and insistent sings me a good morning song.  So excited is she that I must drop the throw, put down the book, and peer out the window.  I, too, am as thrilled as my early morning co-conspirator when I see the sky is blushing pink in the East.  After a day of pouring rain yesterday, it’s lovely to see that promise of blue sky, hope for a day without umbrellas and boots, raincoats and rain pants.  I lean over my desk to search for the feathery noise-maker and catch glimpses of movement in the spidery branches of my neighbor’s plum tree, bare now of its deep wine-colored leaves.  There are several of them hopping from branch to branch, calling to each other in their bird language I only wish I could understand.  I imagine it’s something like, Hey, over here, some berries!  Of course there are no berries on the plumbirds tree so I have to re-think this.  Maybe they’re playing a game of hide and seek, or, like young children, just jumping around with the energy of the new day.

Energized now too, I turn back to my Portable Mentor and re-read a section about playing with words, specifically Long’s ideas about how to increase your writing vocabulary by creating a personal lexicon.  I remember reading this before and even starting my own lexicon.  But I didn’t do it properly or for very long.  Here’s how you do it:  buy yourself a beautiful (lined or unlined) blank book that you love, one that’s small enough to carry around easily.  When you come across a great word  in your reading, write that word on the top of one of the pages, then draw a horizontal line in the middle of the page — only two words per page are best.  Later, look up that word and write the definition on the page.  (Note:  Priscilla has lots of ideas about which dictionary is best.  Check out her book here:

Writer'sPortableMentorRemember, this lexicon you’re making is not meant for obscure Latinate words, not “big” words, but words that sound good to you, fun words, expressive words, hot and juicy words .  She suggests starting with lickspittle.  I like it, so I look it up: noun, a contemptible, fawning person; a flatterer or toady.   Now this definition surprises me a little because I thought lickspittle would be an adjective, but it’s a noun.  My dictionary adds a fawning underling to the definition and I immediately get a picture of Uriah Heap in Dickens’ David Copperfield — he’s always so ‘umble.  I can’t imagine using the word lickspittle, it seems a little outdated, but then, maybe some unctuous character in a future novel would dismiss someone else as a lickspittle.

I am a believer, though, in the idea of a personal lexicon.  So I decide to go out and get a proper book for my lexicon– a lovely bound notebook with fine paper. Here it is:   Lexicon

I found it at my favorite bookstore, Elliot Bay Books.  It’s made in Port Townsend by the Watermark Bindery.  And when I turn to the last page I see it’s signed:  Hand bound by Virginia Marston, Port Townsend, Washington, 2010.  I love that!  I want to put Virginia in one of my novels!

And, also, I can’t wait to start finding some fun, juicy words to add to it.  Here are just a few I noticed while reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things:  drench, dangle, cabal, rogue, caprice.

Try it.  Create your own personal lexicon.  I bet you’ll have some fun.



About writeinseattle

Two Seattle writers examining the writer's life.
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