Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vocab Builder: D

Welcome to the fourth in the Vocab Builder series. Last week we covered the letter C and celebrated Language Day. This week, for those not following the pattern, we will look at the letter D.

A strong vocabulary allows you to select the precise word for what your trying to say that not only means what you mean, but also suits the style you're writing in. Whether you're a duffer pedalling 'goods' to tourists and require an easy to understand word, or an ice hockey commentator describing the defender who deked another player, you will need a good vocabulary suited to you.

As Neil Gaiman once said, 'Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.' Finding the right word is key here and is what I hope these Vocab Builders will help you with. So, with that I think we should get on with 7 words starting with the letter D:


Meaning:  Soothing (often medically related, but not always)

Sentence:  The chocolate has a demulcent centre with the ability to remove any hardships from the eater.
OR:  The medicine has demulcent qualities to help with irritation.

Origin:  Latin. The Latin verb 'demulcere' means 'to soothe' from 'de-' and 'mulcere'.

Discussion:  The word can also be used a noun meaning 'a drug that soothes irritated/inflamed/injured skin'. As mentioned, the word is mainly used in a medical situation, but that is not a requirement. Nothing in the words etymology suggests that it must be used in that way. For me it sounds like its meaning. If you put a real emphasis on 'ul' when saying the word in the first example sentence it sounds like an advert for a luxury chocolate.


Meaning:  a period of dormancy forced by physiology between period of activity.

Sentence:  The insect during autumn undergoes diapause until the spring.

Origin:  Greek. The Greek 'diapausis' comes from 'dia-' and 'pauein' which means to stop/pause.

Discussion:  Clearly this word is used scientifically. In fiction the word could be used to describe a fantasy race that suspends its growth during winter months in order to save energy. Deer use what is called embryonic diapause to ensure their young are born in the spring. They achieve this by delaying the attachment of the embryo to the lining. This is all done because of genetics and is not a conscious process.


Meaning:  1: recurring every day. 2: occurring in the day time 3: active in the day

Sentence:  1: Diurnally the knight would go down to the cave to record the dragons actions.
3: The dragon is diurnal.

Origin:  Latin. The words root is the Latin 'dies' meaning 'day'

Discussion:  This is a word many people would understand but may not feel confident in using. Diurnally is perhaps more commonly used than diurnal. It is a rather formal word so certain types of writing would be more suited than others.


Meaning:  a gift either as a form of gratification or as a conciliatory gift.

Sentence:  We left some chocolates as a douceur in the hotel room in thanks for the great service.

Origin:  Latin with French. The Latin word is 'dulcor' but the French reshaped the first syllable to fit their language 

Discussion:  This word sounds sweet, doesn't it? Well an archaic meaning for the word is 'sweetness'. In writing it is kind of formal, but wouldn't be out of place in less formal works. It is a great example of using the right word in place of loads of less precise words. See how the example sentence is better with douceur than this:  'We left some chocolates as a kind of tip, but more of a gift in thank for the great service'?


Meaning:  1: seller of cheap products or counterfeit products. 2: an incompetent/clumsy person (mainly in golf)

Sentence:  1: In the tourist areas you'll find loads of duffers - don't buy from them.
2: I laughed as the duffer landed in the bunker for the seventh time on that one hole.

Origin:  Unknown.

Discussion:  Duffer sounds like an insult and used in the right way it is. It doesn't have to refer to an incompetent golfer, though it usually is as it is has mainly been used for this since 1897 at least, perhaps even earlier. It is definitely informal and would not be used in an academic piece of writing. In fiction, especially fantasy, where magical streets are often shown with backstairs deals being made the word would be good for its first meaning of peddler of tacky or counterfiet goods.


Meaning:  marked by fearlessness, courageousness, and resoluteness.

Sentence:  The doughty knight marched up to the dragon and thrust his enchanted sword through the soft underbelly of the behemoth.

Origin:  Old English. The Old English 'dohtig' is related to the Middle Dutch, 'duchtich' meaning strong. Ultimately it arose from the Greek 'tukhe' meaning luck.

Discussion:  Doughty. Saying out loud doesn't sound like a brave word on its own. Saying 'a doughty expression' sounds more like a bored person. This word really hits its stride when paired correctly with words such as 'resolution' as in 'with a doughty resolution he stood atop the mountain and swore he would not rest until he reached the bottom'.


Meaning:  1: waste product (scum) taken off metal during smelting 2: waste of foreign matter 3: something trivial

Sentence:  3: TV nowadays is a lot of dross with the X-Factor and Eastenders.

Origin:  Old English and German. The Old English, 'dros' means 'dregs' and is related to the Old High German, 'trousana'.

Discussion:  Dross sounds like what it means. Scum, trivial, nonsense, waste, etc. The word in my opinion can be used formally or informally depending on context. I'll certainly be using the word in my fiction in the future. It has the sense of it being especially trivial, or extra scummy.

So there you go. Seven words beginning with D.

Please post in the comments below. Perhaps have a go at using all 7 words or add extra words beginning with D.

Matt B


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