Dingbat heaven »
Because Margo Lanagan is one of the best writers I know, and is wonderful in every way, and has written two of the best short story collections ever published (White Time and Black Juice)—I should probably follow her rules of writing to the letter.
But, see, she has this list of banned words and every one of those words sings to me:
There are heaps more but I can’t remember the rest. Help me out, Margo? Margo’s Clarion students?
Update: *Are Margo Lanagan additions to the list.
Ever since I heard of the existence of Margo’s banned words list it has become my goal in life to use every single one of them whenever possible. (I’m proud to say that one of the chapter titles in Magic or Madness is “Maelstrom”.) I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to have such a noble purpose. It was like being reborn.
Thank you, Margo! You’ve not only given me wonderful works to read, but a purpose in life.
And maybe I can inspire all of you in turn to start accreting wondrous corruscating volumes of words whilst smelling the sweet sweet sweet jasmine that is succour to all us arty writer types . . .
Write well, little angels, write well!
Posted by Justine at 0:31, 14 September 2006 under Frippery, Ironical (This is Writ), Magic or Madness trilogy, Words & Language, Writing process | 59 Comments »
scott w Says:
i used “effulgent” in each of my first five books, and I stand by my decision.
September 14th, 2006 at 12:43 AM
tee hee. Now, let me think.
you have to be very careful with ‘roiling’.
i object to ‘obsidian’ when you just mean black. obsidian arrowheads are okay.
‘iridescent’, to use a justien expression, sux hairy dogs’ balls.
things being ‘limned’ is pretty bad.
i’ll collect some more for you…why didn’t you ask me last month, when I was reading a whole lot of really bad prose? i’ve forgotten all the things I was wincing at now.
effulgent – there’s a reason it rhymes with ‘self-indulgent’
September 14th, 2006 at 1:47 AM
what the hell is ‘limned?’ I’ve never heard of it.
lalalalala. it’s 2 o’ clock in the morning, my paper is due tomorrow, and i haven’t started writing it yet!! excitement!
some of those words i really don’t mind at all. mainly i stick to the only-use-said-when-writing-dialogue rule…. except when i don’t. eh.
writing academic essays in past tense is making my brain melt. i thought academic writing was supposed to be in the present tense. argh.
September 14th, 2006 at 2:47 AM
Hee. I have used every one of those words.
*sits with justine*
September 14th, 2006 at 7:48 AM
…well, maybe not effulgent. But now I will!
September 14th, 2006 at 7:49 AM
September 14th, 2006 at 8:04 AM
I love maelstrom! (I also love these ‘how I write’ posts you keep doing. More, please.)
September 14th, 2006 at 8:13 AM
I wrote a college paper once, in which I included “boggle” “scrabble” and “sorry.” Because it was a paper about a Shakespeare play, I could not fit in “monopoly” or “mah jongg.”
The things we do to entertain ourselves.
September 14th, 2006 at 8:31 AM
9. Justine Says:
Scott W: And I in turn stand by my man. (I’ve always wanted to say that.)
Margo: Oh no! I agree with you about limned! The skies are falling! The rest are perfectly cromulent and eerily describe my hair right now: My silken iridescent opposite of obsidian hair. You’re holding out though I know there are more!
Rebecca: are there no dictionaries in your land? Is your google foo broken?
limn, verb (t) 1. to represent in drawing or painting.
2. Archaic to portray in words. [Middle English lymne(n), variant of lumine illuminate, from Old French luminer, from Latin lumen light]
Bad, bad Rebecca! I hope you wrote that essay. They won’t let you write essays in present tense? Huh. I say defy them! Write your essays in present tense, second person!
ebear: You’ve never used effulgent? Shame on you!
Maggie: I’ll have you know, young lady, that this is deadly serious!
Robinwasserman: Try to stop me! Though I feel that my “how to write novels” post is incomplete. How could I leave out the vital “defying Margo Lanagan” stage?! *Slaps forehead*.
Veejane: But I bet you got “go” and “chance” in.
September 14th, 2006 at 9:04 AM
Jay Lake Says:
Clearly Margo is not a fan of E.E. “Doc” Smith.
September 14th, 2006 at 9:21 AM
wow, somebody else as picky as i am! i have a list too, but it’s much longer.
and i stand by “limned”. sometimes it’s the only one that sounds right, but, like morphine, must be used sparingly.
September 14th, 2006 at 9:22 AM
12. Justine Says:
Claire: you and Margo should get together and have lots of little killjoy babies
September 14th, 2006 at 9:41 AM
Chris McLaren Says:
I’ve always thought that one of the really wonderful things about the English language is that we have this dizzying variety of words, often many of which can describe roughly the same thing but with important differences in connotation.
That being said, if you’ve used ‘nacreous’ twice within three manuscript pages, you’re probably doing something wrong.
September 14th, 2006 at 9:51 AM
14. Justine Says:
Chris McLaren: But “nacreous” is indispensable when you need a synonym for “iridescent”!
September 14th, 2006 at 9:55 AM
jennifer, aka literaticat Says:
limned is my least favorite word ever. it actually makes me physically recoil. i can’t believe i just had to type it.
whilst is rather a jolly joke of a word. i use it to communicate that i am speaking in a snooty british accent, don’t you know. what? right-o.
but “jasmine”? I don’t get it. what if it is about a girl named jasmine? or what if it is set in los angeles and the smell of night-blooming jasmine is just everywhere? or what if they are jasmine farmers?
September 14th, 2006 at 10:23 AM
Chris Howard Says:
I agree with Margo on whilst, amidst and amongst. Overuse may be the problem with most of these. Well, except for effulgent. We could all use more effulgence.
I assume it’s a metaphoric maelstrom. What do you do when you’re writing about a whirlpool of extraordinary size or violence? Whirlpool sounds like a kitchen appliance. At the least, something I could climb out of with some vigorous dog paddling, but a maelstrom is going to take my boat and me to the bottom.
September 14th, 2006 at 1:17 PM
I rather like the word limned. It is evocative of a certain quality of pain, or light, or both.
September 14th, 2006 at 1:38 PM
Rajan K Says:
I have used iridescent, roiling and obsidian all in the past few days.
September 14th, 2006 at 3:32 PM
OK, I’ve been over to Claire’s list – and was reminded of ‘atop’ *shudder*
justine, nacreosity is quite different from iridescence. plus, it’s usually not good enough just using a synonym for these words. writers use ‘iridescent’ just to mean ‘pretty and shiny’, when I want to know exactly how the thing is pretty and shiny. I want specifics.
chris: i reckon people should communicate the maelstromness
of something without using the actual word. i am deeply over its being used to communicate a storm of emotions.
literaticat: girl called jasmine is okay. commonsense use of jasmine in scene-setting is okay. use of jasmine to communicate wafty romantic sweetness and delicacy and beauty is not okay.
This is just a quick drive-by. tonight i will be back with more forbidden words and clarify a few things.
oh. people may never ‘ululate’. no, not even mourners in fantasy stories. ululation is out. out.
September 14th, 2006 at 6:12 PM
Dave Schwartz Says:
I gotta say, I’m with Margo–with the possible exception of “accretion” and “maelstrom,” which may only be used in the geological and hydrological senses, respectively. The rest are over-the-top.
September 14th, 2006 at 6:48 PM
“Rebecca: are there no dictionaries in your land? Is your google foo broken?”
Er….yes? Actually, I don’t have a dictionary here, come to think of it.
I wrote the essay. And then went to bed promptly at 6:30 a.m. Go me. Prof says that the reason we write in past tense is that the essay is critting a flyer, which already happened. Or something. Makes sense now.
September 15th, 2006 at 12:30 AM
22. Justine Says:
David Schwartz: I knew I didn’t like you . . .
Rebecca: If you have internet access you have a dictionary! Sheesh.
September 15th, 2006 at 1:22 AM
*hides face in shame*
September 15th, 2006 at 1:41 AM
24. Justine Says:
And so you should!
September 15th, 2006 at 2:09 AM
But iridescent doesn’t mean “pretty and shiny.” It means “iridescent”! As in, you know, iridescent. Reflecting a transparent sheen of rainbows, as a oil slick, a crow’s feather, a nice fresh piece of raw tuna, the surface of a cup of black coffee, a dragonfly’s wing, etc.
(And no, it doesn’t mean the same thing that nacreous means. But nacre is iridescent.)
Hey, I just realized, if I write more New Amsterdam stories, I can use all these words as titles, since the titles of the existing ones all relate in some way to qualities of light…..
September 15th, 2006 at 8:41 AM
‘Whilst’ is one of my absolute hate-words, although – literaticat – I do speak with a snooty British accent; I hate it because it’s empty, it’s just a vain way of saying ‘while’, it adds no extra meaning at all. Except to speak about the vanity of its user, perhaps – but even that’s unreliable, because some people out there use it because they think it’s more correct. Bah! Humbug!
Nobody’s mentioned ‘pellucid’, which is a word that always causes me to throw things; it’s a Roget’s word, not a writer’s word.
On the other hand, the book I’ve just sent off certainly includes iridescent silken roiling (mmm…). Ain’t it funny how personal hates assume the position of absolute rules? Nobody should eat liquorice, I say. But thing is, people are always asking us for rules, writing-wise, so…
September 15th, 2006 at 9:46 AM
Hah! *defies Chaz too*
Pellucid is a great word! It’s “limpid” without the erectile dysfunction.
September 15th, 2006 at 10:09 AM
28. Justine Says:
Ebear: I’m pretty sure all of the words here except the preps and articles are on Margo’s list: “Reflecting a transparent sheen of rainbows, as a oil slick, a crow’s feather, a nice fresh piece of raw tuna, the surface of a cup of black coffee, a dragonfly’s wing”. Go you!
Isn’t this a fun game to play? I’ve even started using words—”pulchritudinous”, “exhortatory”, “pellucid”—that I merely suspect Margo will veto.
“Limned” was killed for me by wanky philosophy Phds. I mourn its loss. Perhaps its being on Margo’s list and your enthusiasm for it will bring it back to life for me.
Chaz: Whilst I would love to have some fellow feeling for your comments, mournfully I do not. Pellucid! Pellucid! Pellucid!
Of course, nobody should eat liquorice. It’s Satan’s noodle.
Ebear: Defy them all! Use all the $100 words! Split those infinitives! Dangle those participles! Run amok with adverbs! A pox on all their houses!
September 15th, 2006 at 10:18 AM
“Silken” is good to use to describe sauces (as in food). “Whilst” can be used willynilly if one is writing in a Victorean (or earlier) countryside.And I love “pulchritudinous.” It evokes such a strong image and just makes me grin. Any sentence or paragraph that makes me grin in that fashion is okay in my book.
September 15th, 2006 at 10:29 AM
Well, “limned in golden light,” frex–that’s right out, except ironically, or possibly in a certain kind of first-person narrative. On the other hand, I’m rather fond of this sentence:
Flickering torchlight picked out the river of Fae, limned them like the demons of Faustus, and the heat of it stroked Kit’s cheek.
(Yeah, back to Marlowe again. I will sell this book some lifetime.)
September 15th, 2006 at 10:30 AM
31. Justine Says:
Snobahr: “Pulchritudinous” is prolly my fave word in all the world. It features heavily in my current book. So far I’ve used it more than 20 times. Go me!
Ebear: How long has your book not been sold? My complete work of genius (and that’s a modest appraisal, people) adult novel is coming up for its tenth anniversary . . . We will both sell them eventually! I can feel it in me bones!
September 15th, 2006 at 10:33 AM
“pulchritudinous” is five syllables and contains one consonant knot of four incompatible letters. i feel like my tongue is knotting, just looking at it. “pretty” is two syllables and has a double consonant, which is, well, pretty.
i’m just saying.
i have no idea why i don’t hate “limn”. it’s the most pretentious word in the dictionary. there’s an art/design gallery in san francisco called “limn”, and yes, it’s the snootiest one around. and yet, i like me the word.
there’s no accounting for taste. favorite word? purple. i don’t think i’ve ever used it in a story.
favorite words, anyone? oh, wait, i think i’m gonna have to post this on my own blog.
September 15th, 2006 at 11:06 AM
There just are no bad words. They are all good. I love them all.
Looking at words and trying to choose the bad ones is like walking into a preschool and trying to choose which kids aren’t any good. Come on, spend enough time there and they ALL have some redeeming qualities!
The only word I try not to use in my fiction is “mendacity” and that’s just because I retired that word in honor of Tennessee Williams, rather like a baseball team retires a jersey number.
September 15th, 2006 at 11:53 AM
Justine, only since 2003. You have me way beat.
September 15th, 2006 at 12:22 PM
But “pretty” is vague and nonspecific, and “pulchritudinous” is a very, very specific type of attractiveness, evoking the aesthetic sensibility of R. Crumb and Lord Leighton.
September 15th, 2006 at 12:24 PM
“Limn” is a word I like. A lot. I also never use it except to say that I like it. So maybe there are words that are okay to exist but not to use?
September 15th, 2006 at 12:28 PM
Rachel Brown Says:
but as bear said, iridescent is a very specific word that means a certain thing. whyever not use it if you’re describing something that’s iridescent? that’s like banning the use of the word red.
jasmine also means a specific thing, a name or a flower or a scent. where i grew up it was very often used to make garlands. again, one might as well ban “rhododendron.”
ditto obsidian, though I agree that it should only be used to describe the rock.
maelstrom is also a very nice word.
the others are a bit pretentious, but should be fair game for comic writing. i am now looking for an excuse to use ululating in a sentence. “The car alarm wouldn’t shut off, and now all the neighbor’s cats were ululating.”
September 15th, 2006 at 12:31 PM
38. Justine Says:
Just a reminder to everyone: Margo is not entirely serious about any of this. The jesting light is on.
September 15th, 2006 at 12:35 PM
Liz Henry Says:
True in poetry too:
so much depends
amongst the jasmine
I always used to notice Stephen Donaldson’s overuse of roiling, chiaroscuric, fuliginous, and other words like that!
September 15th, 2006 at 2:26 PM
Ha! I used limned in Ironside. Go me.
September 15th, 2006 at 2:27 PM
“so much depends
amongst the jasmine
September 15th, 2006 at 3:17 PM
42. Justine Says:
Liz Henry: Priceless! I need a T-shirt made with that on it. Shall give it to Margo for Chrissie.
September 15th, 2006 at 4:21 PM
I’m pretty sure luminescent came up at CS05 – with both Tess and myself guilty parties… or was it incandescent?
September 16th, 2006 at 1:56 AM
How else are you going to quickly describe the play of light on a puddle of gasoline in the gutter?
excuse me, are we writing or doing crossword puzzles here?
There are lots of ways to describe this, and quickly too. Howard waldrop reckons there are [insert bazillionish number here] ways to describe something wrongly, but there is only one way to describe it right—i’ll take it to mean, so that the whole description shines and sings, not just the sing-y word in the middle of the description.
September 16th, 2006 at 4:33 PM
Susan, you should have a list written down somewhere. *peers at susan over half-spectacles* I haven’t written them down, myself, except prior to talking about them in writing workshops; my forbidden-words list changes according to what I read. It’s also personal: e.g. after reading the first third of Beverley Farmer’s the bone house I instituted a ban for her on the word ‘translucent’ – and no, I didn’t tell her about it. These are just the core words in a shifting pattern of irritation that happens completely in my own head. mostly. thanks for telling the freakin world, justien.
Yes, most of the ‘-escent’ suffixed words get the sword – opalescent, luminescent, tumescent.
Thanks for pointing out the jesting light, justine; things are getting positively hostile over at ebear’s blog. People railing about ‘these dogmatic lists’ – this is so not a dogmatic list! It’s not even a list of words I don’t like or have never used myself. This is a list of words that I’ve seen used so badly, so often, that I’ve now got an instinctive wince reaction when I see them.
Anyone who’s heard me talking about this list will know that it’s a species of joke. I’ve considered blogging about it before this; I’m thinking it was probably a good idea not to…
I like candra’s comment: “maybe there are words that are okay to exist but not to use”. Sometimes I think these “forbidden” words are words that have a lot of power, and people use them without knowing how to fully control – or fully release – that power. I just want them used so that they don’t stick out of their paragraphs like sore and self-conscious thumbs.
September 16th, 2006 at 3:19 AM
PS: justine, size 12 will be ideal.
September 16th, 2006 at 3:21 AM
pps: I’m with chaz on “pellucid”. put that on the list too.
September 16th, 2006 at 3:27 AM
48. Justine Says:
Margo: Thanks for explaining more fully! I’m beginning to think I should have a big smiley face at the end of each post . . . At least I know you’re funny!
Noted on your T-shirt size.
Adding “pellucid” to the list!
September 16th, 2006 at 7:28 AM
I am afraid that this is the secrit bane of the Internets. Everybody is very serious.
Except me and thee. And most of the time, people assume I’m serious.
September 16th, 2006 at 8:11 AM
50. Justine Says:
Nah, it’s the bane of life. See my next post. I was getting into trouble on account of misread irony (oh, okay, clumsy sarcasm) long before the intramawebby.
September 16th, 2006 at 8:17 AM
and don’t forget the other ‘escent’ words in there…
September 16th, 2006 at 9:15 AM
I think it’s clear to anyone who knows her that Justine’s use of “pulchritudinous” is in its secondary sense of “morally excellent.”
Love all the badinage, but I hear the teakettle ululating atop the stove and I must fly!
September 16th, 2006 at 10:50 AM
James T. Says:
Most of these words are swooningly romantic and pretentiously hyper-literary but I seriously see nothing wrong with “iridescent.” How else are you going to quickly describe the play of light on a puddle of gasoline in the gutter?
September 16th, 2006 at 11:09 AM
I can’t believe no one’s mentioned “crepuscular” yet. That definitely goes on the list.
USians using “whilst” makes Baby Cthulhu cry…
September 16th, 2006 at 12:44 PM
i meant to add: you describe it in a way that particularly fits the story and the observing character. there aren’t many characters [well, okay, i just don't write about them much] to whom the word ‘iridescent’ would occur when a puddle flashed at them in passing.
richard: i’m with you on ‘crepuscular’, but i don’t think it’s as widely used as some of the others. add it anyway justine. the more the merrier!
September 16th, 2006 at 4:36 PM
Ray Davis Says:
“my forbidden-words list changes according to what I read”
Yes, it’s highly contextual. All words are naturally good, but they can fall into bad company, and sometimes we need to get the poor dears out of their usual haunts for the benefit of all.
“See” and “look” are, at heart, stalwart salt-of-the-earth types, but after reading dozens of closing epiphanies headlined by “See:” or “Look:”, I wish they could be banished from poetry for a few decades.
On the other hand, I can imagine Stephen Colbert deploying “crepuscular” and “effulgence” very successfully. Together, even.
September 17th, 2006 at 9:10 AM
57. Justine Says:
Indeed, Ray, Stephen Colbert is a god of words and can deploy and invent them at will.
September 17th, 2006 at 9:15 AM
jane yolen Says:
AlAS, though i am a huge margo fan, I AM ONE OF THOSE WRITERS WHO LOVES TO USE A LATINATE WORD SOMEWHERE AMONGST THE SINGLE STRONG STRESS syllables when appropriate.
they simple shine there.
corruscating, murmuration, and their ilk are great friends of mine.
but ichor—ichor is to laugh!
September 19th, 2006 at 5:28 AM
One of my students wrote “whilst” in a poem. I thought it looked ridiculous until I realized…he was from another country.
September 19th, 2006 at 9:44 AM
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