Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vocab Builder: A

'Never use a long word where a short one will do,' is George Orwell's famous quote. I have quoted it before and no doubt will in the future. The extension for this rule is 'use the right word, not the big word'. Sometimes the right word may well be a big word. The aim, as in all writing, is to be clear and precise so the reader fully understands what you are trying to say.

At the start of the year I made 5 New Year Resolutions and number 4 was to learn new words. This week I am going to list, define, and comment on some words beginning with 'A'. My source for the words, definitions, and origins will be the 365 New Words a Year calendar, but I will be writing my own commentaries.

I think it is only right to start with the first new word I learnt this year:

ab ovo


The word means 'from the beginning' and comes from its literal meaning 'from the'.

The phrase from which this word is perhaps most famous is in the Roman poet, Horace - 'Ab ovo usque ad mala':  'From the egg to the apple'. It is Sir Philip Sydney who marks the phrase 'ab ovo' moving into the modern language saying:  'If [the dramatic poets] wil represent an history, they must not (as Horace saith) beginne Ab ouo:  bu they must come t the principall poynt of that one action.' Please note that the quote is, I believe, in old-early modern English and is not me being terrible at spelling.

Personally, I wouldn't use 'ab ovo' in the narration of a piece, but, if I had the right character, put it in dialogue. A character who has a rich expression. Putting the word in a young character's dialogue would likely break the flow of the piece.



The word has two meanings:  'accidental/incidental', or, perhaps more commonly, 'arising sporadically perhaps in a location other than the usual'.

The word originates from the past participle of the Latin 'advenire', 'adventus'. This gave rise to the Latin, 'adventicius' meaning 'coming from outside'. As you may have guessed these also form the root of 'adventure' and 'advent'.

This word is probably more suited to the narration rather than dialogue. I doubt any person would use this often in speech, but it wouldn't look wrong written as part of the prose. I am unsure whether it would suit literary fiction - the word itself is suited, but I can't see any literary piece having a setting where 'adventitious' would be suitable to describe something in the scene.

One thing to remember with this word is that it is easily confused with 'adventurous'. Although similar in meaning they a different enough to cause confusion for your reader if you get them wrong.

ad hoc


This word is perhaps not new to you. It wasn't new to me when it appeared on the calendar, but I think it warrants a place on this list. Many people would know only one of the definitions, the divide likely being if you use computers or not.

'Ad hoc' can mean 'improvised' or it can mean 'concerned with one purpose'. A common use of the phrase in IT terms is an Ad Hoc network. That is, one set up for a single purpose.

The origin of 'ad hoc' is, unsurprisingly, Latin. The direct translation is 'for this'.

The improvised definition presumably comes from things being set up for one purpose but that were not pre-planned.

'Ad hoc' is likely to appear in sci-fi more than other genres and highly unlikely to appear in anything not set in modern times. Although they may have used the word, readers would be jarred by the presence of a word so seemingly modern.



The definition is 'an abnormal lack of ability to act or to make decisions'.

I think most people know someone who struggles with decision making. As Mark Twain once said:
'I must have a prodigious quantity of mind. It takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.'
However, an abulia is where this indecision is abnormal and makes it impossible to make any kind of decision. It is actually a medical disorder that describes someone 'inert by indecision'.

Personally, I wouldn't see anything wrong with a character using the word jokingly at another character's inability to make a quick decision. The word is relatively obscure so it could make a good name for a character or place. 'Abulia' to me sounds like a female name suited for fantasy or sci-fi. Naturally the character would need to be forgetful to match the name, but calling a character 'Abulia' when they never forget anything would make for a nice bit of subtle comedy.



If a person is 'affable' then they are 'pleasant and at ease in conversation' or 'characterised by ease and friendliness'.

It comes from the Latin, 'affabilis' ('affari' - 'to speak to', '-abilis' - 'able'). Interestingly 'infant' comes from the same root as 'affari', 'fari'. The 'in-' at the front makes 'infant's literal translation as 'incapable of speech'.

'Affable' is one of those words that is in common use but isn't at the same time. In many cases people would say 'he's friendly and easy to be around' rather than, 'he's an affable person to be with'. I would prefer to use the word 'affable' as it is more precise and concise. As I mention at the start of this post one should 'never use a long word where a short one will do'. 'Affable' is shorter than 'friendly and easy', but gives the same point.

I wouldn't be worried about using this word in any genre. It isn't a word that is difficult to understand. Even if someone has never used it before they will likely be able to make a good guess at its meaning and besides, the context you use it in should be strong enough that a reader can understand the sentence even if not the word.



The word means 'of or relating to an uncle', or 'suggestive of an uncle, esp. in kindness or geniality'.

'Avuncular' goes nicely with 'affable'. Whether it is going overboard is a matter of taste, but writing 'Mark was an avuncular and affable man...' would certainly put in your readers' mind a nice character. But be warned if a reader doesn't know what 'avuncular' means then they might see it as a negative thing. Personally the actual word doesn't sound very pleasant with a strong 'vunc' in the middle.

The word comes from the Latin (surprise, surprise) 'avunculus' meaning a 'maternal uncle'. This traditional sense has been lost, favouring the definition from around the 1830s where the maternal side of the family is no longer a requirement, nor for that matter any familial relationship.

I think this word would best suit romance or fantasy. In fact it would also go well in literary fiction as it has a certain tonal quality reminiscent of that genre (yes, literary is a genre despite the opposite being 'genre fiction').



If one is an 'apotheosis' it means they have been 'elevated to divine status (deification)'. Or, it can mean in a less godly sense, one who is 'a perfect example (quintessence)'.

Obviously this word would suit the fantasy genre, but I think it would work in all genres. It could be used by a spiritual character as a compliment, perhaps complementing the two words above.

The word comes from ancient Greece this time. The prefix 'apo-' meant completely and 'theos' is god. so it is 'completely god'.

The more modern definition could be used to describe Harry Potter. 'Harry Potter is the apotheosis of children's literature.'

So, there you have it, 7 new words all beginning with A. These posts are going to be roughly weekly with 26 posts in total before I take a break before starting again.

Ab ovo, there were few words starting with A that you could use. Now after an adventitious crawl of the internet you are now an apotheosis of your peers with your superior vocabulary. Lucky for them you are avuncular and affable and willing to share your knowledge. This post is ad hoc, to give you new words to use. Let's just hope you don't get abulia so that you can decide how best to use these new words!

Please post other words starting with 'A' in the comments below. Or, you could try using the 7 words in a sentence.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...