Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.
“What Does That Word Mean?”
“No Idea, I Skipped It.”
There is limited material difference if you skip a word in a paragraph due to not knowing its meaning.
Time for some reader-habits real talk.
I’m the type of reader who, once taken out of the book, can find it difficult to jump back into any story (notwithstanding the epically paced narratives). So when I stumble over passages that don’t translate in my brain—often eliciting a “wait, what?” reaction—it can be a bit troubling to re-read the section to fully grasp the concept, diction, and intent of the words. This re-reading is naturally occurring though. I mean, how can you go forward in the story if you’re unaware of wtf’s happening?
But then you come across those singular words you have never heard of before. Ever.
E-readers have it easy because most have built-in dictionary functions for clarification (or at least, that’s what I’m told; I don’t own one so I’d never know). However, readers bound by the physical counterpart surely know what I’m talking about: those short-or-lengthy words pulled from the recesses of a fucking spelling bee that force the firing of neurons asking for the language of origin. So you stare at it—and it stares back—and you act on one of three things:
1) You’re a wizard with no limits in vocab. So you carry on with reading easy peasy.
2) You’re optimistically learning; taking an active role in sharpening your vocabulary so you won’t have troubles next time around.
(2.5) Alternatively, you could be someone that picks and chooses which words you deserve that clarification award.)
3) You give it the big ol’ stink eye, feign ignorance, and carry on like you didn’t see it at all. (If you’re type 3—then you’re my kinda people.)
Now it’s not that I purposely play dumb and pretend that I don’t see the word in question…it’s that I don’t have the willpower or time to verify its meaning when the sentence comes and goes within the second. So there’s this tiny little void in what’s being said.
Is this negligent reading? Maybe.
But what I will say is that these words [typically] don’t have materiality to alter what the sentence is about. In most cases, it’s simply a “nuanced” way to describe what we already know of the scene.
The weird thing is that this habit mainly applies when reading fiction; other mediums like zeroing in on manuals or contractual fine-prints. etc., and I’m totally game to learn of its meaning.
The other day, I came across modicum. (Shush if you’re glorious brain knows of this word.) An example from Merriam-Webster: “only a modicum of skill is necessary to put the kit together.” My interpretation of this example: “[they] need [some kind of skill] to do shit (re: kit)”.
With this, I’d carry on with the text because the framework is there for me to grasp the basic understanding of what’s being talked about. It’s not as if the purpose of the phrase is entirely rooted in that one unknown word either. You might lose some of the oomph, but in most cases, I think I’d be fine with my otherwise “assumed and made up” meaning.
What I’m getting at is this: there are thousands of ways to write any one scene and plumping up the text with words that might do descriptive justice while sacrificing accessible understanding is a teeter-totter kind of thing. On one hand, I appreciate the [potential] value-added complexity; on the other, my vocabulary isn’t Webster’s-tier to be able to indulge on every word on the first pass. I’m not saying that any writing should stoop to a lesser quality but just to say that as a lackadaisical reader who usually reads on the go-go-go (re: commuting), the overarching ideas on the page is what I’d walk away with rather than the finesse in the words being used to tell the story.
So until our species messes with technology to the point where we can download content (e.g. dictionaries) into our heads and our pupils dilate an augmented reality–SKIP ALL THE WORDS!
*mic drop goes here*
So tell me—
1) What do you do when you come across words you’re unfamiliar with?
2) How important is learning new words as you read fiction? Or is it something you’re more inclined to do when you aren’t engrossed in a novel?
3) What recent words have you learned of and it’s meaning?
As always, think aloud.
(Okay, but really, stop judging me now.)
Indeed this isn’t one of my “fun” or “witty” posts but it’s content that has been a half-baked WIP for half a year and it wasn’t until Cristina’s (Girl in the Pages) recent discussion post regarding the Intimidation of Extensive Vocabulary primarily in the blogging community that sparked the need to finish vomiting.