Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Etymology, and Homely Best Friends

Have you ever read a book and thought that the author chose a wrong word, perhaps a synonym that just wasn't spot on, or used a similar word, but not the right word?  Did it make you wonder how their mistake was made? To learn what caused theirs might help you avoid the same in the future.

Being a writer, I try to find the right word, the one that fits. I first use my vocabulary which, though not as large as I'd like it to be, is a fair size. Still, many times, the words I have "in stock" don't include the word to convey just precisely what I mean. 

Then I have to turn to the Thesaurus. I often think that does carry a risk, minimal though it may be.  There can be dozens of synonyms listed. I could miss a fine nuance of meaning. But it does include examples of the word used in sentences.

Or...I could just try to reason out the meaning. :-)

It's a pleasant challenge, trying to reason out a possible word meaning. Do you do that? Take what might be the root of the word and then add the meaning of the prefix or suffix... Yeah. It's fun.

And yes, sometimes it has some pretty bad (and embarrassing results). I jest. It's not really a plan for coming up with new words, synonyms, or guessing the meanings of an unknown word to infuse into writing. When in doubt, check before use.

Case in point. Many years ago, (seriously--many) when I was about 10 years old and my best friend in the whole wide world was 11, we were watching my dad, her dad, and  our uncle all work on a boat motor. 

The day was perfect. Sunshine, puffy white clouds, and her dad and mom had invited all of us to go up river for a picnic and a day of boating. I'd never before been on a boat. There'd be a whole gang, but there was a picnic area with a swim area. And I'd get to spend the day with my best friend, and she with me. Life was good.

There we were in my uncle's driveway, looking forward to the fun ahead of us when Karen, my BFitWWW looked at me and said, "You sure are homely-looking."

Pshawwww. I think I blushed. I thought she'd given me as a big of a compliment as she thought she'd given me. ~ Yes, I'm laughing while I type this.~

The men stopped working and stared while I gushed to her, "Thanks!"

My dad had a goofy smirk on his face. "Homely-looking, huh?"

Karen shook her head and said, "She looks like the rest of the family."

My dad winked at the other two men and went on about his business. 

It took a couple of years before I checked to see what this compliment had meant. Imagine my surprise. :-)

It pays to check the meaning.


  1. I love that "homely" feeling- I have a dentist that looks like she could be my niece and without any work we are like family. Nice read C :

    1. Hi Danni, isn't it amazing that with all the people in the world, there are so few that look so much like each other. And even more amazing when we find them. :-) ! Thanks for visiting. :-)

  2. Y'know homely also means what we, these days, usually call "homey". Yeah, I don't mean the "street" meaning, I mean a "feels like home" kinda thing. So, your friend was pretty much right, then. It tends to be used to describe "things" but she was telling you you "felt like home".

    1. Yeppers, I think you're right about what she thought she was telling me. And technically, she was right. But like my dad, her dad and our uncles knew, the meaning as she had figured on her own, was ambiguous at best. More often than not, the contextual definition in my part of the world is, as Merriam Webster's list of synonyms describes: " grotesque, hideous, ugly, ill-favored, monstrous, unappealing, unattractive, unbeautiful, uncomely, unhandsome, unlovely, unpleasing, unpretty, unsightly, vile". :-) Which matters little in the grand scheme. It was just funny. She's still my best friend in the whole wide world though at least a thousand miles has separated us for 3 decades. Thanks for visiting, Rose! :-)

  3. Words can be pretty tricky at time. I'm glued to the dictionary. I sometimes have the words coming to me in French and I can't get the exact same meaning in English, it can be really frustrating but it's also a good exercise for the mind.

  4. I just saw this comment, Linda. Yeah, lol, words are tricky--and fun. :-) The mind--like anything else. You have to use it to keep it functioning smoothly. :-) Thanks for visiting! :-)