[Think Aloud] – #21 – “What Does That Word Mean? No Idea, I Skipped It.”

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.


Table Topic:
“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*

Afterthought Prompts:

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.)            


connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads


Post Inspiration:

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.

50 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #21 – “What Does That Word Mean? No Idea, I Skipped It.””

  1. English is not my first language so I find my self in that position often. I think I am number 3 combined with number two. What I mean is that because I love writing and I am trying to adjust with new words and phrases, so usually words that I don’t know their meaning pop in my head when I am writing and so I search them. Well sometimes I suspect their meaning based on the sentence or the phrase.
    Great post!


      1. I always read in English. The translation to greek is just not working and I find it ridiculous. I read greek books in greek and in general I prefer to read books in their original language and I wish I knew more languages. Maybe later in my life I’ll try. Is english your first language?


  2. I do look up words when it is an interesting word or if it’s a visual object, I would definitely need to know what the object look like especially when they keep referring to it. but I’m mostly number 3. who has time to look up words or why interupt my reading?

    anyway, hope you have a lovely day.


  3. I totally skip words I don’t know unless I’m using my e-reader. I don’t want to waste the time. Sometimes, I wonder whether the author used a thesaurus to add the words if they’re really out there. And even though this post isn’t fun or witty, I loved it. 🙂


  4. Ha! Yes I’m one of those number 3 people, however occasionally, when I am feeing up to it I like to look up the words. Because I ususally have my phone near me whole I read, I can easily pick up my phone and ask the dictionary what it means. But usually I skip right over those words! Great post! I loved it.


    1. My phone is incredibly dated that it’d probably lag out before I get to use my phone for something productive haha.

      But the question really is: when do you feel up to searching up the words? Do you find it’s usually in a specific genre (i.e. your love of Fantasy where you’d feel more inclined?)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think its when I’m reading a book that has particularly intricate writing, I feel more inclined because the words just jump out at me and I think: “I need to know the exact meaning behind each and every word!”. Mainly yes, it happens with fantasy rather and contemporaries or other.


  5. What do you mean this wasn’t one of your fun or witty posts? I am very entertained right now, because I’m all about skipping all the words. You know, I’ve had a Kindle for years, and have never used the dictionary function? If I can still understand the context of the sentence, then I be damned if I’m going to stop and look up a word I don’t know. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Seriously. I don’t care enough about having a better vocabulary to look up words I don’t know. I’m reading for fun and my free time is precious.


    1. HA. I’m glad that you could relate to this post. (DODGED A “BRANDIE MIGHT NOT ENJOY THIS” BULLET I GUESS)

      It does make me wonder if readers actually gain vocab from reading words in one pass–I think my brain would give that word a boot from short term memory if it’s not used often enough.


  6. I’m definitely number three! Don’t want to waste my time grabbing a dictionary just to look it up. As long as I know what the heck is going on then I’m good. The only times I may look up a word is if it sounds/looks really interesting, then I’d just like to know what that word means. Love this post!


    1. Do you remember any of these interesting words?

      Many of the words I’ve come across and consider exploring their meanings to ends up being like: “oh, this sounds like it could mean–nope, definitely I’m wrong :(!” (Now that I think about it: this sound demoralizing…damn vocabulary.)


  7. I’m just gonna go ahead and ignore your thought prompts for a minute to say: this whole skipping words you don’t know reminds me of Violet Baudelaire in The Miserable Mill.
    Now that I got that out, I’m usually the 3rd person. But there are times when, out of curiosity, I’ll look up what the word means because it sounds and looks beautiful to read. :3


    1. I had to Google what that (The Miserable Mill) was but I’m glad this post could link up and tangent towards other ideas!

      I guess I do wish that I thought some words were beautiful. At the time of the read, it’s usually like “ugh, what is this word–why are you here, WHATEVER I’M MOVING ON”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. When I come across a word that I am unfamiliar with, I sometimes skip it. If I’m using my Kindle or Kindle app, I’ll define it. If not, I usually just skip it. Mostly I skip, because when I was a kid in school I was told that you could just continue on with the sentence and then you’ll get some idea about what the word actually means. So I’ve always just stuck with that logic and for the most part it works. If not, and I really have no clue, I’ll take it to Google. 9 out of 10 times, I won’t even remember the word later or what it means. My memory is crap, especially when it comes to things that aren’t really that important to me.


  9. This both entertained, and saddened me because I lo
    1. I am a logophile!!! SOOOOO I look them up, and add them to a list with the definition later. I’ll probably add it to my vernacular, and start using it regularly, or if I am looking for variation in m language; I’ll vaguely remember the word, look back, and use.
    2. To reiterate, I LOOOVEEEE WORDSSSSS. A LOGOPHILE IS SOMEONE WHO LOVESS WORDSSSSSSS, DID I NOT MENTION THAT? So no matter how engrossed I am in the novel, I will grab my phone, utilize voice command, and voila, I HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING NEW. I love to learn! or set it aside to look up later!
    3. OOH, IN A RUSH. Not a book, recent conversation with an author friend.
    1. moniker-name
    2. Cruicverbalist-An enthusiast of word games, especially of crosswords.


  10. Whenever I find a work that I don’t understand I whip out my phone and do some looking up. It may be time consuming and takes time away from the story, but I can’t continue unless I get a full understanding of the context.


  11. Dang it you beat me to this topic! I had a half-written draft of something along the lines of this topic sitting on my laptop. I guess it’ll just continue to sit there until I figure out a way to twist it more.
    I think depending on the situation, I’m all three people. I either look it up on my nifty Dictionary.com app and add it to a list of favorite words if I like the way it sounds or just skip it. If I have a list of notes for that book then I’ll write it down and look it up later. I usually end up skipping though XD
    I like words but not enough to make myself look it up. I find that I usually do this with anything I’m reading. It also depends on how close I am to my phone or a piece of paper.
    Recently… ah well I’ve been in a reading slump and can’t think of a word I looked up. Probably something that I’ve seen like ten times and still can’t remember the definition of lol.


    1. You should still write your post anyways! My audience isn’t the same as yours and so more visibility to a [reader issue] like this only helps the community (or something along those lines…)

      Do you find yourself actually using the words after you’ve learned of it or do you just enjoy the novelty of seeking them out?


      1. Maybe in a few weeks or a couple of months… just depends on when I’m feeling it XD
        I’ll be sure to link to your post though because some of your points were really good!
        Well… I’m a little weird when it comes to using the words. There are some words that I use a lot and then there’s some more colorful words that I’ll randomly say. I guess I just say them when it naturally rolls off my tongue? It doesn’t happen very often though. I do find that I’m more likely to use them in papers but that’s like a given. So I guess a bit of both. I like to look up the words but then whether I use or not them is unpredictable.


  12. I read on my Kindle so I can immediately search up its definition 😀 If I’m reading a physical book then I just… wing it hahaha. I am fairly confident I can guess the meaning pretty well based on the context of the sentence.


  13. I mostly eRead so when I do come across a word that confuses me, I use the dictionary. The problem is when I read physical books, I find myself stabbing the book hoping a definition will pop up 😛

    I don’t particularly have a problem with people using “big words” in their novels. Most of the time I can figure out the gist of what is being said. I do take “issue” with authors who have weird word choices and then repeat those word choices throughout the book. Makes me scratch my head sometimes haha


  14. I mostly read my books with my Kindle so I just look it up there, but with a physical book? I usually skip the word and not bother to look it up. I don’t want my reading to be interrupted by a single word so I just carry on.


  15. I want to say that I follow under the modified 2 category (I begrudgingly learn) and I’m selective in the words I choose to take time to define. This could be why it takes me a week to read a book (and the fact that I don’t read every day), lol. But you’re so right, slowly ereaders have become very appealing for because of this habit. It makes thing so much easier!


  16. I think I’m stuck somewhere in between stages 2.5 and 3. Most of the time I can generally figure out what certain words mean, while other times, I do exactly what you do. But really, if a book is embellished with a million fancy-pants/uncommon words, I tend to ask myself, “Is the author a living, breathing dictionary or are they just being pretentious?” The answer tends to be mixed, but I have a hunch it’s the latter. It’s fine to use a wide range of vocabulary but when a book is jam packed with words that people have to look up every five minutes, something’s wrong. Or you know, it’s fine and dandy because people like us don’t give a damn and we skip over those words anyway (; Haha interesting discussion post!


    1. Sometimes I think readers are being trolled with uncommon words because if as many of us aren’t hardcore logophiles (someone who likes words) to begin with, they could totally throw something random into the mix that makes no sense but the masses wouldn’t know unless they checked LOL. Or maybe I’m just being super pessimistic.


  17. I am a person who loves words and word origins, but I skip the $5.00 words all the time. As a former reading teacher, one of our over-arching beliefs is that a strong reader gets more from context, like you, than know dictionary-perfect definitions.
    I participate in Wondrous Words Wednesday at Bermuda Onion, where we share words that we come across in our reading. It is fun to me because I learn the actual meaning of things I’ve been guessing at for years. I read a lot of historical fiction and there always seem to be new words, often nouns, Come by and check it out.


    1. Oh that sounds like an interesting meme! (Although I rarely, if at all, catalog words that I come across haha). Now I’m curious as to the–how shall I say–“elite reading level” if you understand context AND dictionary-perfect vocabulary haha.

      Thanks for your comment!


  18. I have a pretty good vocabulary (yep, I confess I knew that modicum one), so this isn’t a HUGE problem for me, but my strategy is exactly the same as yours when I don’t know a word. Who has time to be going and looking words up while they’re reading? Way too much effort! 🙂 I find that context tells you almost everything you need to know. And if I DID misinterpret that one word? Um, oh well.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


  19. haha! Love this post. I’m the 2.5 kind of reader. I pick and choose which words I look up. cuz like you I don’t like being pulled out of the book world but I do like knowing the meaning of interesting sounding words. though I’ll admit I sometimes forget the meaning and when I come across it again it’s like “so…we meet again.” and then I debate whether I should look it up (again) or move on since it clearly didn’t stick with me the first time.


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