Thursday, November 22, 2012

Vocab Builder: H

Vocab builder H
Welcome to the eighth of the Vocab Builder series. Last week we covered the letter G. This week, for those not following the pattern, we will look at the letter H.

A strong vocabulary allows you to select the precise word for what your trying to say.Whether you're a harbinger, bringing about a halcyon change, or are a histrionic guy with hubris, you should have a strong vocabulary suited to your situation.

It has been commented that it is all very well knowing these words but one mustn't show off vocabulary for the sake of it. Remember if you want to use these words make sure you are using them correctly and because they are the right word for the job. Let's start:


Meaning:  calm/peaceful / happy / prosperous/affluent

Sentence:  The dragon slept, dreaming of those halcyon days where knights didn't try to slay him.

Origin:  Greek. Alkyone was the daughter of the Greek god of the winds. Her husband dies in a shipwreck and threw herself into the sea becoming a kingfisher (as you do). The ancient Greeks then called kingfishers 'halkyon'. Myth was that they had floating nests on the sea and the god of the winds made a period of calm between eggs being laid and hatched.

Discussion:  The word can also be used to describe the 'kingfishers' nesting period'.

I rather like this word. It was a calm feel to it, that suits its meaning. I always imagine a yacht on a calm sea  with this word. Of course it can be used in a more sinister way, perhaps used to describe the calm of a storm.


Meaning:  an initiator of change.
or            a 'fore-shadower' of change

Sentence:  The oracle was always a harbinger of doom, and was usually right.

Origin:  Anglo-French. 'Herberge' means 'lodgings', and 'harbinger' originally meant 'host'. Current usage of the word was first documented in the mid-1500s

Discussion:  Until recently I thought this word was spelt, 'harbringer'. In fact the 10th of August of this year (when it appeared on my 365 New Words a Year calendar) was when I learnt its actual spelling. This word seems to be cropping up more and more recently. A quick look on Google Ngrams shows the word declining in popularity since around 1834, but climbing back up again from the 1950s to modern day. This seems to coincide with when climate research started off. Look in any publication talking about climate change and the word 'harbinger' is likely to come up. Taking a look at this Ngram helps to support this theory. A steady increase in the word harbinger is accompanied with a drastic increase in talk about global warming and climate change. You could say the increase of 'harbinger' was, in fact, a harbinger to climate change discussion. Conspiracy? You decide!


Meaning:  inland of the coast / away from cities/metropolitan centres

Sentence:  The knight rode on horseback to the hinterlands of the region.

Origin:  German. 'Hinterland' literally translates to 'land in back of'.

Discussion:  This word is now in decline, but I think fantasy writers are in a good place to revive it. Many epic fantasies involve characters trekking long distances, and sometimes drawn-out paragraphs simply stating the character is away from the city are used. Why not just say they have entered a hinterland? Sure, rural works, too, but hinterland is more specific as is means a kind of in-between land, not necessarily one of a rural nature.


Meaning:  hairy

Sentence:  He thought the man looking at him was a werewolf, turns out he was just very hirsute.

Origin:  Latin. 'Hirsutus' means 'hairy' in Latin.

Discussion:  We all know a hirsute person, in my case their name is REDACTED, but this word is perhaps more more suited to other animals that aren't humans. It's a great word for fantasy, too used to describe werewolves, to hair based curses. It could even be used figuratively, as in a hirsute situation. Its usage seems to be keeping steady.


Meaning:  theatrical / relating to the theatre/actors/acting
or            deliberate (set-up/theatrical) 

Sentence:  The histrionic nature of the crime led police to conclude it was a con.

Origin:  Latin. 'Histrio' is Latin for 'actor'.

Discussion:  Another good word is melodramatic which has a similar meaning and is a more common word, though does seem to be in decline. Interestingly, histrionic is on the rise. Has this been set-up by those at the forefront of dramatic words? You decide!

Also, histrionic disorder is a mental illness where one craves attention and novelty.


Meaning:  exaggerated pride/self-confidence

Sentence:  The knight was killed by the dragon. Many blame his hubris for his downfall.

Origin:  Greek. Hubris was a word the Greeks used for

Discussion:  In an even stranger turn of events, 'hubris' started to rise in popularity at the same time both 'melodramatic' and 'histrionic' started to fall, perhaps to fill the gap. It then fell itself when 'histrionic' started its comeback in 2001. Get the full story here. In fact this Ngram shows that as fiction gets more into global warming, the less melodramatic, histrionic we get and the more hubris we lose.

In a more relevant discussion of the word, I think it is a good word. In my opinion it sounds like some hyped-up ego and when you say the word it sounds negative and it is almost always used negatively.

So there you go. Six words beginning with H.

I would like to point out the conspiracies and NGrams used are almost all based on word usage in English fiction. You get very different conspiracies just looking at English as a whole, such as REDACTED. For the full low-down on today's H words and their usage in English Fiction, and to form your own theories, look at this Ngram

Please post in the comments below. Perhaps have a go at using all 6 words or discuss the 'H' words further. Can you think of any good 'H' words? I'd love to here your views on the conspiracies mentioned. For ease of communication believers in the conspiracies should use the term H-Gate as much as possible! If you found this post interesting or useful please share it using the social media tools below or send links to people you think may be interested.

Matt B


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